Etoll, E-toll, gantry, toll road, toll gate. Freeway / highway N3 between Beyers Naude and Linksfield. 18 March 2012. Generic illustrative highway pic, caption as needed. Picture: Karen Sandison

Johannesburg - The fuel levy is not an effective means of funding improvements to Gauteng's freeways.

This according to Consulting Engineers South Africa contractual affairs manager Wallace Mayne, during Cesa's submission on Thursday to the advisory panel on e-tolls and its socio-economic impact in Midrand.

“The fuel levy just spreads the burden among the entire population; roads have not really benefited from the fuel levy.”

Mayne said It would be unrealistic of Gauteng to expect fuel levy funding to filter down to road infrastructure, as past experiences suggested fuel levy funds were diverted elsewhere.

“E-tolling really is the only funding model that will be effective.”

Cesa is a representative body which represents more than 500 consulting engineering firms.

The highways in Gauteng were a localised system, Mayne said, with Gauteng residents primarily using them, even though they were national roads.

“To say Gauteng's freeways are national is a bit of a misnomer,” Mayne said.

As such, Gauteng had to fund improvements to its freeway system, as the national fiscus was already stretched.

Mayne said there had been an improvement in Gauteng's roads since the start of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project with funding provided by e-tolling.

“There has been an improvement in traffic since it the project was introduced.”

Mayne said: “The system as it is intended is going to work - it has really benefited our cities.”

Were e-tolling as a method of funding set aside, he argued, it would jeopardise future projects.

“We don't want to go the Eskom route where they need R200 billion to get out of a mess,” he said.

For those who did not want to use tolled roads, sufficient alternative roads were available.

“There is not just one alternative, there are many alternatives,” Mayne said.

Funding needed to be in place to ensure the viability of alternative routes.

Salani Sithole, part of Cesa and chairman of the transport liaison committee that consults with the provincial transport department, said South Africa's roads network was the 10th-largest in the world.

A total of R149 billion was needed to address the roads maintenance backlog, according to the latest data available. E-tolls were projected to cost R400 million a year.

If the next phase of the GFIP was not implemented, it would cause congestion in future.

“The movement of people is the backbone of the economy; if phase two doesn't pick up, it is going to make it worse,” he said.

“We still recommend e-tolling. It is a way of supporting infrastructure. The user becomes part of it.”

He suggested, however, that the burden tolling placed on frequent freeway users required further examination.

The panel will focus on the implications and perceptions of financing the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project and e-tolls.

On Monday, the Gauteng provincial government announced the panel would embark on a month-long consultation process, starting on Wednesday, with organisations and individuals.

Organisations were invited to make submissions on the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the GFIP and e-tolls.

The panel is expected to report to premier David Makhura at the end of November.