After unprecedented levels of flood damage across the Western Cape road network during winter last year, with the most severe storm taking place over the Heritage Day long weekend, the Western Cape Department of Infrastructure (DOI) has given an update on maintenance.
The Montagu Pass and Seven Passes Road are two of the Western Cape roads that had to be closed after sustaining severe flood damage during flooding.
The department said its first responsibility concerning damaged roads is to re-establish access so all communities that rely on a particular road are reconnected to the wider road network.
Once access has been established, the order of repairs is prioritised. First, by the amount of traffic a particular road carries, and then by the road’s critical economic importance. Once access has been established, road users may have to use long detours or alternative routes until other repairs are possible.
“Given the current resource constraints and following the need to prioritise the order in which road repairs can be made, DOI has had to prioritise routes that carry higher traffic volumes and that are associated with greater economic activity than the Montagu Pass and the Seven Passes Road,” the department said.
“Despite our efforts, it is not currently possible to provide a timeline for the reopening of the Montagu Pass or the Seven Passes Road.”
The department said the initial work done to repair the Montagu Pass was stopped, following intervention by members of the public and Heritage Western Cape (HWC).
“Since the pass is a Provincial Heritage Site, DOI first had to receive the necessary HWC permit before work could be restarted. Before permission was received to restart work, there was further adverse weather that caused the road to deteriorate to the point where it was no longer safe for public use and had to be closed,” it said.
“Various processes then followed before work could be initiated. During this time, the road further deteriorated due to more adverse weather.”
The department said due to lack of funding and resource availability required, repairs have been delayed.
It said the repairs have been further severely impacted by the flood repair requirements across the province, following more flooding.
“This delay is due to the damage to the road network during the 2022 and 2023 winter floods, most notably the Heritage Day long weekend floods in 2023,” the department said.
“Despite the economic value of the Montagu Pass, including its value to the tourism sector, this is not a critical route because an alternative is available (the Outeniqua Pass). Priority must be given to roads where there aren’t viable alternatives to ensure that communities remain connected to the broader road network.”
The HWC has engaged with various stakeholders on the maintenance and repair of Montagu Pass over the past few months, with several meetings attended by representatives of HWC, DOI, law enforcement, and conservation bodies.
The department said it has now been issued a permit by HWC for the maintenance and repair of the Montagu Pass.
“The main constraint to restarting work is the current lack of resources. As the Outeniqua Pass provides a viable alternative route, repairs on the Montagu Pass are not considered to be critical, given the prioritisation criteria,” it said.
The department also addressed rumours.
“Allegations of problems with a contractor have been made in the public domain, but these are baseless. No contractor was involved in any work on the pass. The Department required heritage approval. The heritage approval processes did not previously prohibit maintenance on Montagu Pass and maintenance continued as normal work.
“Unfortunately, complaints by concerned groups in the area caused work to stop and meant DOI had to follow a Heritage Western Cape approval process.”
The work will be prioritised along with all other roads that were damaged by the floods, and the maintenance will resume as soon as the necessary capacity and resources, including finances, are available, the department said.
It further stated this is likely to be done in a phased approach, based on budget and resource availability, with the priority being to restore some form of access, even if traffic is restricted to a single lane with stop/go controls.
There is currently no prospective date of reopening the road soon. The pass will only be reopened when the necessary maintenance has been completed.
Seven Passes Road
Seven Passes Road also sustained significant damage during the 2022/2023 winter floods. The road will be reopened once it has been repaired to its pre-flood-damaged state.
This will take considerable time and resources during a period when there are severe resource constraints. Unfortunately, other damaged roads that carry more traffic and are more economically important are a higher priority, it said.
“During 2022/2023 there were significant slips on the road, most notably between Nelson Mandela University and Wilderness Heights, MR355. The damage was of such a nature that lane closures were implemented where the most notable slips occurred.
“Traffic was allowed to pass with applicable signage in place. The situation was monitored to see if this could be a safe alternative as an interim measure.
“Unfortunately, due to the geometry of the pass and narrow road width, coupled with irresponsible road user behaviour, there was a high risk of crashes. The difficult decision had to be taken to fully close the road in the interest of road safety and to protect the asset from further damage.”
It said information was received about cyclists using the route and distributing their own subjective reports on its suitability.
“When a route is closed, it is closed to all road users and for their safety. There is damage below the surface level that is not immediately visible. The DOI will not keep a route closed unnecessarily as it is in our interest to have every part of the broader road network fulfil its role,” said the department.
“The pass will only be reopened when the necessary maintenance has been completed as soon as the resources are available. Unfortunately, other damaged roads that carry more traffic and are of higher economic importance than the Seven Passes Road remain a greater repair priority.”
The department appealed to residents to be patient. Both passes remain closed to all road users, and pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists are asked to adhere to the closure of the road.