Cape Town - The city and the Cape Chamber of Commerce have dismissed claims by the South African National Roads Agency Limited that the N1 and N2 should be tolled to subsidise the construction of a second Huguenot Tunnel costing about R1 billion.

The city has brought legal action to have the decision for the toll roads set aside so the whole project can be scrapped.

Sanral said earlier this week that it intended moving forward with the proposed N1/N2 Winelands Highway project and that money from the tolls would be used to construct a new tunnel that could deal with the heavy vehicles using that route.

The ventilation system in the tunnel was substandard, it said.

But mayoral committee member for transpor Brett Herron said Sanral’s argument of safety concerns about the Huguenot Tunnel was “contrived and disingenuous”.

The city contended that Sanral’s project to have the N1 and N2 declared toll roads was improper and the result of an unsolicited bid made 16 years ago. It did not arise from an identified need for road infrastructure upgrades and improvements.

In May 2013 the Western Cape High Court granted the city an interim interdict preventing Sanral from advancing its toll project, pending the court’s review of Sanral’s decision.

Herron said: “The city has consistently rejected the proposal on the basis that the road upgrades are not necessary and that tolling would have a disproportionate impact on poor and low-income residents. This would include an increase in the cost of commuting, which will hinder access to job opportunities and social amenities, and will reinforce the apartheid-era spatial inequalities.”

It was Sanral’s duty to replace the Huguenot Tunnel’s equipment if it had reached the end of its design life.

“There is already a toll at the Huguenot Tunnel which is meant to be dedicated to financing the maintenance of the tunnel. Part of the toll money collected is for the replacement of tunnel equipment and Sanral should explain what has happened to decades of funds collected for that very purpose,” said Herron.

Janine Myburgh, president of the chamber, agreed: “The tunnel was the original toll road in the Western Cape and one that has always been accepted by business and motorists because it offers value for money. There has never been any suggestion that it was not a viable project or that it needed a subsidy.”

Peter Hugo, chairman of the chamber’s transport portfolio committee, said the costs of the tunnel, built 26 years ago, had probably already been paid and the toll fees could be used to cover maintenance and operating costs.

“In fact, one can argue that toll fees should be reduced once construction costs are recovered.”

Herron said the cost of upgrading safety equipment would be considerably less than the R1 billion required to build a new tunnel, adding: “There is also no pressing need to construct a second tunnel for purposes of increasing road capacity. In our analysis, at the current rate of traffic growth, the Huguenot Tunnel will reach capacity only in about 25 years.”

Hugo said there had been strong opposition to the tolls when the Winelands project was first proposed: “There was not a single credible voice in support of these toll roads during the public participation process, and it was clear only Sanral and those who hoped to work on the project were in favour. Every credible organisation from the chamber to the city council and the province opposed those toll roads.”

Cape Argus