KZN motorists need to drive carefully, as it has emerged that the province needs R17bn to repair its roads.

Durban - Drivers in KwaZulu-Natal are going to have to drive carefully as it has emerged that the province needs R17 billion to address a backlog of thousands of kilometres of unmaintained roads - which is far more than is in its kitty.

On Thursday, Transport MEC Willies Mchunu said his department’s total budget was only R9bn. He was concerned that 80 percent of the province’s roads were deteriorating because their lifespan of 25 years had been exceeded.

Mchunu was delivering his budget in the provincial parliament in Pietermaritzburg.

There were 7 400km of tarred roads in the provincial network that required maintenance. This excluded gravel roads that needed to be tarred.

“While we fare better than other provinces, our rate of poor roads is 43 percent - far higher than the global benchmark of less than 10 percent,” Mchunu said.

The department also had the responsibility of constructing roads and bridges.

Of the infrastructure budget of R6.9bn, R3.8bn was for maintenance and R2.9bn for upgrading existing roads and the construction of new roads.

“Special focus will be paid to key and strategic projects that link rural communities to economic hubs and major corridors,” said Mchunu.

There were already more than 1 000km of roads that had been rehabilitated and retarred in the past five years.

“Well over nine million square metres of blacktop-surfaced roads were resealed and 1 565km of new access roads were built,” he said.

However, the IFP’s parliamentary leader, Blessed Gwala, said that if the province did not address the maintenance of provincial roads, they would end up looking like Nigeria’s.

“We don’t want to experience what the people of Nigeria do. If you go to Nigeria, you see that there is a serious backlog, while the country is facing shocking traffic congestion,” he said.

DA MPL Rafeek Shah said there was an urgent need to maintain its highways as they were used by heavily loaded trucks moving from the ports.

“This necessitates more funding for the rehabilitation and maintenance of these roads.

“Currently the department only receives 40 percent of the funding required to maintain this road network, resulting in an ever-increasing road maintenance backlog,” Shah said.

On road safety, Mchunu challenged the executive committee and Premier Senzo Mchunu to commit themselves to ensuring that drivers of their blue-light vehicles were driving safely.

“I’m going to go to the premier and say: What you are doing to ensure that all your vehicles honour the rules?

“Cosatu, too, will have to ensure that none of its members break the rules of the road. We will then go to the private sector to get its commitment,” said Mchunu.

The Mercury