Cape Town - 100813 - National Assembly at Parliament in Cape Town - Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - Maintaining rural roads has to be balanced with a need for improved access routes to key tourist destinations, transport director general George Mahlalela said on Tuesday.

“The question is what do you prioritise?” he asked Parliament's transport portfolio committee.

A typical dilemma was choosing between improving the road to a tourist lodge that accommodated 20 people, or a rural one to an area housing 20 000 people.

Mahlalela said his department understood the serious economic benefits of tourism, but the balancing act needed to be acknowledged at the same time.

“I think we need to have a conversation about these things, to link those. If it's a road to a tourist destination, it should also link to a rural community. We have to create that benefit.”

He reiterated that there were insufficient funds to deal with maintenance backlogs.

“We require around R80 billion annually to sustain what we have. We are only getting R36bn a year.”

Mahlalela said the priority, with the money available, was rural access roads, because they unlocked economic activity.

“Giving timelines is difficult. We could say five years. Then there's this big economic crisis, so we go back. It's an ongoing struggle.”

In a document tabled in Tuesday's committee, the department said 80 percent of the road network was older than its design life of 20 years.

“There is a gradual decrease of roads in good condition and a consequent increase in the length of network from poor to very poor,” the document reads.

“The exponential increase in vehicle traffic, specifically freight carriers, necessitates an urgent need to maintain roads.”

The current amount of money being pumped into road maintenance would not even begin to deal with backlogs.

The department said it was planning to fast-track the implementation of a new rail policy. This would lead to the acquisition of new trains, the introduction of Metrorail business expresses in major populated cities, and railway police to protect passengers. - Sapa