|The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), which aims to expand Gautengâ€™s highway network, will enter an even busier period over the next few months as many new tenders are to be assessed and awarded.
South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) GFIP project manager Alex van Niekerk says the biggest portion of GFIP construction tenders had already been awarded by May last year. These seven works packages are to be progressively completed from May 2010 up to 2011.
However, selected portions of the work, such as the section on the N1 between the R21 interchange and the Atterbury interchange, as well as the R21 between Pomona and the Benoni interchange, will be completed towards the middle of this year.
Some of the contracts have experienced delays, though.
â€œSome of these contracts are being delayed owing to excessive rain and the shifting of services, such as power lines, telecommunication cables and water pipes, for which contractors are dependent on third parties,â€ says Van Niekerk.
Work on the N1 between Centurion and Pretoria has now also been delayed by four to six weeks as a result of a truck, loaded higher than the permissible 5 m, crashing into the Rigel avenue bridge in March, causing damage estimated at R4-million.
â€œOverall, we are satisfied with the progress. Things are largely going according to schedule,â€ notes Van Niekerk.
Subsequent to the first tranch of seven contracts awarded by May last year, the contract for the R21 upgrade from Pretoria to the Pomona off-ramp, near Benoni, was awarded later in 2008.
However, this project will already be completed before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in June, says Van Niekerk.
Sanral is in the process of evaluating the tender for the upgrading of the N12 south of Johannesburg, between the M1 and Reading interchanges.
â€œWe expect to announce the winning bidder in April,â€ says Van Niekerk.
The tender for the section of the N12 between the Rietfontein N12/R21 interchange and the Tom Jones off-ramp, in Benoni, closed in March, and should be awarded in May.
The contract for the section of road on the R21 from Pomona to the N12, and the overlay on the R24, will go out on tender in April.
â€œThese new contracts are valued at roughly R2-billion, taking the construction contract value for the GFIP to an estimated R14,5-billion,â€ says Van Niekerk.
â€œOnce these tenders have all been awarded, most of the 185 km of road, which forms part of the initial phase of the GFIP, will be under construction.â€
The GFIP will effectively see the majority of the provinceâ€™s roads â€“ certainly its busiest roads â€“ being tolled at what is currently estimated to be around 50 c/km by the end of next year.
â€œOur biggest challenge right now is implementing the open-road tolling system,â€ says Van Niekerk.
Open-road tolling refers to a system whereby a vehicle does not have to stop at a tollgate, but where the information is read from an in-vehicle electronic tag â€“ or etag â€“ or where the vehicleâ€™s number plate is captured when it passes a toll point gantry.
Van Niekerk says the system comprises various components.
The 42 tolling points along the 185-km system will each feature two gantries housing the etag or licence plate readers, vehicle classification equipment and cameras, as well as a technical equipment shelter.
There will also be a number of customer service centres situated along the routes.
A control operations centre will oversee the entire system from Midrand.
Sanral has already prequalified three applicants for the open-road tolling system design and installation, as well as its operation.
The open-road tolling system tender, to be published in April, will be divided into the two sections, even though Sanral is seeking one service provider for both parts.
Following the 18-month installation period of the toll system, the successful bidder will be responsible for operating the toll system for eight years. The contractor will also be responsible for operating the transaction clearing house and violation processing centre for a five-year period. What this refers to is the process of putting in place the banking system for the toll roads, as well as the administration of toll collection, and establishing measures to deal with toll evasion.
Dealing with the Notorious Rigel Interchange
The section of the N1 past the Rigel interchange, in Pretoria, is notorious for the number of broken-down heavy vehicles, â€œcausing huge delays to trafficâ€, says Van Niekerk.
â€œOn average, almost two trucks break down on a daily basis on the N1 at the Rigel interchange.
â€œHowever, the upgraded N1 past this inter- change will now have five lanes per direction, adding two lanes to the existing three lanes at the interchange, which should ease the situation.
â€œFurther, Sanral will provide heavy- vehicle towing trucks on all the GFIP contracts to tow away stranded vehicles in order to minimise delays caused by the broken-down vehicles.â€