Ravi Ronny, SANRAL Eastern Region Design & Construction Manager. PHOTO: Supplied

PRETORIA - The South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited (Sanral) on Friday announced that work to upgrade the N3 Corridor - the 84km freeway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg KwaZulu-Natal province had started. 

The planned upgrade will be done in phases over the next eight to 10 years.

Sanral Eastern Region design and construction manager Ravi Ronny said the N3 Corridor is essential if one of government’s strategic integrated projects linking the Port of Durban with Gauteng, South Africa’s economic heartland, is to succeed.

He said the Sanral Board had directed that the project be given priority and construction on the critical sections must commence within the next two years.

Detailed designs are being drawn up for the reconstruction of the N3 between Durban and Cedara at an estimated cost of between R22 and R24 billion. The plans include a ring road around Pietermaritzburg to avoid the notorious Town Hill section of the N3.

There are various work packages along the corridor with each package taking between 36 to 42 months to complete.

“Environmental impact assessments are also being commissioned while routes are being plotted to increase the capacity and safety of the freeway which will have up to four and even five lanes in each direction over certain sections,” said Ronny.

Major realignment of the highway will take place at Key Ridge and Town Hill where the steep grades cause major traffic congestion, especially when heavy-duty vehicles are on the road.

If the upgrades do not go ahead, it is estimated that users of the N3 will continue to suffer losses of nearly R800 million per annum -- due to accidents and time delays. R775 million can be attributed to time delays and between R250,000 and R295,000 per hour to accidents and road closures due to accidents.

Currently the maintenance of the existing road at Town Hill has faced challenges, and there have been incidents of crashes as traffic moved through the work zones. Experts say the expansion of the roadway in the current alignment is not an option due to the close proximity of residential and commercial properties and the extended period over which lane or road closures would be required.

Twelve proposed new routes are being investigated to eliminate the problems at Town Hill. A 14 km ring road around Pietermaritzburg and north-east of the current N3 alignment is being considered as one of the more favoured routes.

Ronny said the N3 carries in excess of 40,000 vehicles per day around Pietermaritzburg and consists of a mix of urban commuter traffic, long distance traffic and substantial heavy vehicles, with some sections in excess of 25 percent heavy vehicles.  

“In excess of 40 million tonnes of freight per annum are carried on the N3 corridor, with approximately 9 000 heavy vehicles using the national road per day. Durban is by far South Africa’s busiest port with over 80 percent of goods moving along this corridor by road," he said.

“Therefore, the need to consider the best economic solutions to ensure the seamless flow of freight is very important to this corridor."

African News Agency/ANA