The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) is not only battling rain, irate motorists and ever encroaching deadlines in completing its R15-billion Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), but also criminals stealing anything from steel joints to solar panels.

Brazen criminal gangs armed with automatic weapons have held up staff to rob them of reinforcement steel and other goods at road construction sites, says Sanral GFIP project manager Hennie Kotze.

Earlier this month police caught a gang of 20 people, with their own excavation equipment, who were attempting to steal copper cables at the Buccleuch interchange at night.

“There is not one interchange on the Ben Schoeman highway with overhead cables remaining for overhead lighting.

“We now have to enclose cables in concrete to protect them from theft, but this is not ideal owing to the heat build-up,” says Kotze.

He adds that it is often impossible to prosecute criminals even if almost caught in the act, because it cannot be proved that the cables in their possession belong to Sanral.

Other goods that disappear regularly include the steel plates used to connect concrete barriers, as well as reinforcement steel.

As the contractor pours the concrete up to a certain level, the steel remaining in the open will often be cut off, explains Sanral senior project manager Rajan Padavattan.

“Worse is, scrap dealers buy this steel without questioning where it comes from.”

Sanral also had to resort to putting tracking equipment in the solar panels used to power its moveable variable message signs, which are placed next to the road to inform motorists of road conditions ahead.

“We don’t know what to do anymore,” adds Sanral GFIP senior project manager Alex van Niekerk.

Padavattan also tells of tunnels Sanral staff discovered underneath the N1 near Soweto. These tunnels were excavated by a bunch of enterprising criminals to the median of the road, to reach the cables for the freeway’s overhead lighting.

“The ground is soft here, and the concrete of the road surface provides a nice sturdy tunnel roof.”

The first phase of the GFIP should be completed in 2011.

PUBLICATION: Engineering News
AUTHOR: Irma Venter
DATED: 29th September 2009