Sixty percent of South Africa’s 754 600km of roads have been classified as “poor” or worse – and the potholes are costing motorists R20-billion a year in extra fuel and maintenance costs.

The government has been urged to focus on boosting finances and dealing with the crippling skills shortage that is playing a major role in the dire state of the country’s roads.

The Financial and Fiscal Commission says the state of roads continues to decline, even though spending has increased. While the international benchmark stipulates that a maximum 10 percent of a country’s total road network could be allowed to be in “poor” or “very poor” condition, in South Africa the figure is 60 percent.

Badly maintained roads are costing road users a whopping R20-billion a year in fuel consumption, tyre wear and vehicle maintenance.

“In absolute terms, investment in total road infrastructure has more than doubled since 2000 and is expected to be almost two percent of GDP by 2010,” the commission says in its Submission for the Division of Revenue for 2010/11.

Despite this, there has been little improvement, especially in the condition of roads that fall under provinces, where spending has focused more on health, education, welfare and housing; and municipalities, where the bulk of budgets are spent on water, sanitation, electricity and refuse removal.

The commission is now calling for greater co-ordination of road management across all spheres of government and has backed a proposal by the national Department of Transport for a new roads co-ordinating body.

The body would be responsible for policy, standards and guidelines, and would scrutinise provincial and municipal road plans as well as decide funding allocations.

Responsibility for roads service delivery would rest with the South African National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) at national level, whereas new entities would effect delivery at provincial and municipal level.

According to the commission, government policy already highlights the need to deal with “an emerging sustainability crisis and deterioration of road networks”, as well as ensure that roads can cope with increased freight and commuting – and the implications for co-ordination involved in dealing with underspending and addressing backlogs.

The commission says underinvestment in maintenance and the deteriorating condition of many provincial and municipal road networks carry “significant” economic and social costs.

It cites Sanral as estimating the cost of a three- to five-year delay in road maintenance because making repairs is six to 18 times more expensive.

Traffic congestion in urban centres also pushes businesses to relocate from inner cities to their outskirts, increasing the cost burden of fuel and transport on many South Africans.

In rural areas, the “very poor state of many municipal access roads has contributed to soaring vehicle operation costs” and hampers access to clinics and schools, the commission says.

PUBLICATION: The Star (Page 8)
AUTHOR: Gaye Davis
DATED: 6th June 2009