DURBAN: LA MERCY residents are infuriated by the frequent M4 road closures for sports events that have hindered their movements.
The residents liken the closures to “house arrest" and are considering protesting at the next event on the sought-after stretch of road to voice their disapproval.
Last Sunday, the M4 highway was closed yet again, as it was the stage for the Ironman 70.3 Challenge, which had cyclists zooming along during the annual event. It was the fourth sporting event in the area since March, and the the road between Umdloti and Seatides was closed from 8am to 2pm for the benefit of cyclists.
Residents complained that a trip to the local mall was usually a 15-minute drive, but on race days it turned into an expensive and frustrating hour-long trip.
Attorney Tashya Giyapersad, who missed several appointments, suggested that one lane of the highway be opened for travel.
“It’s unacceptable that more than 500 people are forced to use a small alternate route. I had to wait for two hours in traffic on a residential road,” she said.
Community representative Sandheel Maharaj explained how the closure of this stretch of highway left La Mercy residents housebound, and those relying on public transport stranded.
“The only other way out of La Mercy is to drive through long residential roads, where traffic becomes congested as motorists have to wait for cyclists to pass through at crossing circles,” he said.
“To gain access to Durban, residents must access the N2 toll route where toll fees are required, so there's no emergency route, and those who use taxis have to walk long distances to pick-up points,” Maharaj said.
The road closure on Sunday clashed with Father's Day. Residents said some motorists were trapped in a cul-de-sac because traffic authorities misdirected other motorists who had lost their way, which caused further congestion on residential routes and blocked the path of emergency vehicles.
Resident Jimmy van Vuuren likened the road closures to "house arrest" while another, Shaman Moodley, considered protesting at the next event.
Darryl Harris, the chairman of East Coast Cycling Club, said of the highway: “The road surface is great, the views are stunning and the route out to Ballito and back works out to around a 100km ride, which is perfect for what cyclists call a Grand Fondo or Tour race."
Harris appealed to motorists to share the road with cyclists. “The big races are good for Durban's sports-tourism with some of the bigger events attracting thousands of out-of-town visitors,” he said.
eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa emphasised the tourism value of such events.
She said the municipality strove to ensure minimal impact on motorists and residents when events were hosted in the city. “We only have the four events annually that have been approved for the use of the M4, and only three of them have an impact on the highway between La Mercy and Seatides,” she said.
Maharaj, on behalf off assured that La Mercy residents said: “We have nothing against the sport, but the manner in which it is conducted is an injustice to people who live here.”
Another resident called for a tariff to be charged by the eThekwini Municipality for the use of the highway, which should then go directly into local development.
Ward Councillor Geoff Pullan has alerted the city to the community's plight. He is hoping to have the Tongaat toll plaza fees at on/off ramps waived for residents during race days. “We hope to reach a conclusion where both sides can benefit,” he said.
Tourism KZN and the Durban Chamber of Commerce did not respond to queries.