Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba wants big business to help fund the City’s M2 bridge rehabilitation so it can reopen far sooner than the eight months initially proposed for the project.
“If we can get the private sector to come to the party, we can have a service provider working on this 24 hours and then it could take three months to complete,” he told The Saturday Star recently.
“As a businessman my instinct is to throw money at it,” he said.
The mayor’s comments came as motorists experienced their first full day of having to find alternative routes after the closure of a section of the M2 highway.
Many had gridlocked traffic across the city, and commutes that took hours to complete.
The construction is expected to cost R6.2 billion.
“Unfortunately, we only learnt about this three weeks ago. It is an emergency and it will be a work in progress,” said Mashaba, who added that the city had budgetary constraints, which was why it was estimated that it would take as long as eight months to complete the rehabilitation.
“One thing I won’t do is reopen the bridges until they are fixed. I was praying that nothing would happen before the bridges were closed on Thursday,” said Mashaba.
“It was a decision that broke my heart.”
He blamed the previous ANC-led administration for not properly maintaining Joburg's bridge infrastructure.
Mashaba said that he had met his team and they had discussed ways to speed up the work on the bridge and introduce measures to improve the traffic flow.
Engineers called for the highway to be closed after they found serious structural faults in the M2 bridges.
Metro police were out in force after the closure, with many directing traffic at major intersections.
Metro police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said his staff was already overstretched.
“It is a big challenge. We have 70 traffic wardens and 80 metro police and we have far more traffic lights,” he said.
“We are trying our best, but we are hoping that the public starts using alternative routes like the N3 and N12.
"We will try and maintain our numbers out in the road and we will see how this goes over the next couple of weeks,” Minnaar added.
Howard Dembovsky, of the Justice Project SA, said: “The criminals are going to be having parties.”
The Johannesburg Road Agency is planning to erect signage that will direct traffic along alternative routes, but some are concerned that the longer the bridge remains closed, the greater the economic damage will be to Johannesburg.
“Closing the M2 is huge, it is a nightmare. It will have an effect on productivity,” said transport economist Tatenda Mbara, who added that it was difficult to quantify the effect the closure would have.
Economist Mike Schussler referred to the closure as “road-shedding”. This combined with Eskom's load-shedding would add to Joburg’s economic woes, he said.
“You have to pay more for labour, as people are working longer, more for fuel, and add in load-shedding and this could add 4% to 5% on the cost of transporting goods,” he said.