Sanral has failed, once again, to clarify the mixed messages it has been sending out about the future of the controversial N2 Wild Coast toll road, despite growing behind-the-scenes signals that the government hopes to raise alternative funds to avert another major outcry from motorists.
Two months ago, senior KwaZulu-Natal transport officials gave an assurance that plans to erect new toll booths at Isipingo and on other sections of the N2 South had been scrapped.
This followed suggestions that more than 30 percent of the funds for the highway would come solely from tolls collected from the proposed Isipingo toll gates south of Durban.
Mxolisi Kaunda, who chairs the KwaZulu-Natal portfolio committee on transport, told MECs a decision had been taken that no new tolling would happen on the KwaZulu-Natal side of the border as part of the Wild Coast project.
Kaunda said this decision had been taken at a strategic planning meeting of the national department of transport in Cape Town earlier this year.
This statement by Kaunda coincided with a press release by Sanral on May 14 voicing optimism that the new coastal highway would go ahead.
Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona claimed “groundbreaking” decisions had been taken that would allow for an extension of the N2 coastal highway between East London and Durban.
A few days later, however, Mona backtracked somewhat and denied any knowledge of plans to scrap new toll plazas at Isipingo and other sections of the N2 in KwaZulu-Natal.
“We have not given any assurance that there won’t be any tolling,” he said.
But earlier this week Mona told Business Day that Sanral had “reconfigured” its plans for the Wild Coast project.
“Because of the unresolved issue on the KwaZulu-Natal side of the project, we have reconfigured it and will be developing it only on the Eastern Cape side,” Mona stated.
National economic affairs minister Ebrahim Patel also referred to the importance of the “N2 Wild Coast Highway” during a speech in Durban on Tuesday.
Patel said the Wild Coast road was one of 18 strategic infrastructure projects that were intended to create new jobs and expand economic growth. He said a shorter N2 route would create a better logistics connection between Eastern Cape rural communities and KwaZulu-Natal’s urban markets.
NO MENTION OF TOLLS
Mona and Patel both omitted any reference to the four-letter “toll” word in referring to a project previously titled the “N2 Wild Coast toll highway”.
When invited to state categorically whether Sanral had abandoned the plan to establish several new toll plazas along the N2 inside KwaZulu-Natal as part of the N2 Wild Coast project, Mona did not give a direct response, but acknowledged KwaZulu-Natal was opposed to further tolls.
He added: “Sanral cannot therefore undertake to develop on the KwaZulu-Natal side until otherwise advised about the availability of funds and/or a funding mix that will be acceptable to those who are objecting to tolling.
“So, outside the tolling model, the funds will need to come from the fiscus. But that decision is not within the purview of Sanral. It is a matter for the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission and Treasury to decide.” - the Mercury