Red tape paused the free fixing of potholes in Gauteng earlier this year. Now officialdom has halted the service. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) has decided not to hire an outside company to help it with pothole repairs, as was previously carried out for free by the Dial Direct and LeadSA pothole service.

After fixing more than 30 000 potholes in Joburg, Pretoria and Ekurhuleni at no cost to taxpayers, the popular Dial Direct service was controversially stopped in June owing to some red tape over tender procedures. At the time the JRA tried to appease a public backlash by announcing that the service would go out to public tender, but has now made an about-turn and said it would use internal maintenance teams for pothole repairs.

No reason was given for the change of heart, and why local authorities would want to pay for filling potholes while the private sector is willing to do it for nothing.

The move goes against government’s calls to engage in private-public partnerships to improve infrastructure, and means ratepayers will continue to foot the bill for road repairs.

City of Johannesburg spokesman Gabu Tugwana, however, said that the through its service delivery improvement plan the city was “focusing on a range of interventions, including in the area of pothole repairs, that are intended to significantly improve its performance levels”.

He says the JRA’s strategy will be to arrest the deterioration of the roads before potholes are formed.

The AA has slammed the JRA’s decision to go it alone with pothole repairs. “It is unbelievable that a free service be denied which would augment stretched resources and at the same time, increase service delivery to the ratepayers,” says AA spokesman Gary Ronald.

“If/when the e-Tolls are implemented, additional traffic pressure is going to be put on alternative routes through the city, which is going to compound the existing situation. The AA hopes that the JRA has plans in place to deal with the accelerated wear of these routes, as well as the necessary road safety interventions to prevent crashes.”

The JRA also responded to ongoing criticism regarding deteriorating road markings and malfunctioning traffic lights. Gauteng’s roads are rife with non-working traffic lights, some of which remain out of service for weeks or even months, and the average number of traffic lights malfunctioning a month is 540 out of the total of 2121 in the JRA’s jurisdiction.

Tugwana partly laid the blame for delayed traffic light repairs on power failures and stolen cables vandalism, but didn’t explain why so many traffic lights stopped working in rainy weather.

“Traffic signals are maintained through proactive interventions as well as on a reactive basis,” he said, and said that maintenance teams drove along priority routes every morning before peak traffic conducting inspections to ensure that traffic signals were operating. “Traffic signals are repaired on a priority basis, being major arterials in the first instance followed by arterial routes and others thereafter.”

On the prevalence of fading road markings, Tugwana blamed the problem on silt washing on to the road surface where there were no paved sidewalks, which scrubbed the paint off and led to accelerated fading of road markings.

As to why it took so long for faded lines to be repainted, he said the JRA was responsible for maintaining 10 000km of road infrastructure across Joburg, but that the agency “will intensify road network monitoring and routine maintenance activities”.

According to Ronald: “Road maintenance is key to saving lives and preventing road crashes from happening. About 10 percent of fatalities can be directly ascribed to the road environment. Obviously this refers not only to poorly maintained road surfaces but to the signage and markings as well.

“If the roads agencies, and by implication, [the] government, are really serious about traffic safety, then this would be a priority in terms of the Decade of Action for Road Safety (50 percent reduction in road crashes by 2020) and would enjoy the attention the problem deserves,” said Ronald. -Star Motoring