Many more toll roads coming
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The controversial Gauteng toll road system is just the start of a string of tolls across the country designed to plug a multibillion-rand hole in the government’s road maintenance bill, according to Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele.
Responding to a recent parliamentary question, Ndebele revealed that the so-called “user pay” principle - which he claims will only be applied when required - will go some way towards relieving the state’s R149 billion road maintenance shortfall.
“The ‘user-pay’ (toll) principle is government policy, but is used selectively and only where feasible, and when used, the benefits outweigh the cost to the road user,” he said.
Ndebele also noted that the price tag for maintenance backlogs excluded periodic resurfacing of the road network, the upgrading of gravel roads to tarred surfaces, adding new lanes to existing roads and the construction of new roads to ease congestion on busy routes.
The Gauteng toll system was widely criticised earlier this year when the proposed fees of 66c/km were announced, prompting Ndebele to stop the process while he consulted affected constituencies.
These include taxi operators, who want to be exempted from the toll fees.
Long-haul transport companies have also warned that the new fees will raise the cost of all consumer products as these are transported mainly by road. And they have suggested that, in the absence of an efficient alternative such as rail, companies have little choice but to move products by road.
Other tolls in the pipeline include: the N1-N2 Winelands Toll Highway (171km); N2 Wild Coast Toll Highway (560km); R300 Cape Town Ring Road (105km); R30 Bloemfontein to Welkom (160km); N3 Marianhill to Cedara (90km); and the controversial N2 Knysna Bypass (35km).
“This is part of the South African National Roads Agency’s long-term planning strategy for the national road network,” the minister said.”Extensive investigation and evaluation would be done before any final decisions were taken about further tolling, he said.
“The introduction of toll roads is related to the backlogs that exist with regard to the (national road network) and the associated funding constraints by the fiscus.
“This makes it extremely challenging for the required remedial measures to be implemented, as and when required, resulting in the continued deterioration – if not arrested timeously – of the road network,” Ndebele explained.
He emphasised that toll fee structures would exclude the initial capital outlay and that users would only be paying for upkeep on the section of road they actually used.
Money collected from tolls would also be “ring-fenced” to be used exclusively for maintenance on the applicable route.
This comes after an Independent Newspapers investigation revealed on Friday that a private company appeared to have acted as judge, jury and executioner in the Gauteng toll road project.
The investigation found that a local road engineering company was contracted to do everything from the initial feasibility studies to the costing of the plans and finally the engineering of the project, including the building and operation of the toll gantries.
Sanral has denied any impropriety, saying the company’s services were obtained at a 20 percent discount.
The company’s involvement in the feasibility study – and later in other aspects of the project – did not constitute a conflict of interest, Sanral said.
However, critics have called for the entire process to be stopped and for all contracts, tenders and agreements to be opened up to public scrutiny.
Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven, who has criticised the fact that parts of the project were outsourced to the private sector, has indicated that the trade union federation plans to take the issue to the streets with protest actions.
DA Gauteng MPL Jack Bloom has also cried foul, suggesting the closed process followed so far prevents public representatives from ensuring that the government is getting bang for its buck in the project.
The minister suggested that the budgets available from the national fiscus were “insufficient” to cover the state’s road maintenance obligations and therefore road users will have to help foot the bill.
This will free up available government resources for other roads in need of repair.
However, the envisioned tolls will only cover 3 120km – or 2.4 percent – of the country’s 135 000km network of surfaced roads - Political Bureau