The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Scheme (GFIS), which entails the upgrade and construction of about 500 km of roads in the region, aims to improve economic opportunities in the region, South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) marketing and communications project manager Wendy Watson tells Engineering News.

“The economy stagnates if the road transport system is not efficient. Traffic in the region has increased tremendously, and it is currently increasing by about 7% a year, compared with the usual 5% a year. We expect traffic to increase by more each year,” says Watson.

Sanral says that the growth in the economy, subsequent improve- ment in living conditions, and greater accessibility to private vehicles, have led to increased strain on the Johannesburg, Pretoria and Ekurhuleni road systems, especially during peak-hour traffic.

The subsequent congestion on the main routes has an adverse effect on the environment, drivers’ time, workplace productivity, and frustration levels, and leads to a more rapid decline in the quality of road infrastructure.

In response to the growing strain on the province’s road networks, Sanral has proposed a solution to Gauteng’s traffic congestion to the Minister of Transport, Jeff Radebe, Gauteng province, as well as metropolitan councils in the affected region in 2005.

An interauthority forum was established, chaired by the Depart-ment of Transport, and studies were undertaken relating to infrastructural development, including travel demand management, sustainable maintenance, and financing.

This resulted in the development of the GFIS, which, together with the metro authorities in Tshwane, Johannesburg, and Ekurhuleni, as well as the province of Gauteng, will upgrade and construct 561 km of road around the three metro- politan areas, to improve the movement of freight and road-based public transport.

As part of the scheme, an interconnected network of inner and outer ring roads are being created that will also provide direct links to the historically neglected areas of the south-western townships of Johannesburg, such as Soweto and Diepsloot.

Further, the scheme includes intermodal transport hubs to surface and rail-based public transport facilities, and the introduction and promotion of concepts such as travel demand management through high-occu- pancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, and associated infrastructure.

The scheme is being implemented in phases, starting with the imple- mentation of the environmental- impact assessments, expansion of the carrying capacity of existing roads, and other improvements, such as the further roll-out of the intelligent transport system currently operating on the Ben Schoeman freeway.

The social- and economic-impact assessments are also currently under way.

Watson says that, while South Africa’s plans to host the 2010 soccer World Cup have made more finances available and resulted in more political commitment to infrastructural projects, the upgrade of roads in the region would have been necessary regardless of South Africa’s plans to host the event.

“Planning for the GFIS started long before the allocation of the World Cup. It is something that had to be done,” explains Watson.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Economists estimate that the GFIS, which will cost about R20-billion, will contribute some R14,2-billion to the gross domestic product in 2008 and R15,3-billion in 2009. The Gauteng gross product for the same timeframe is expected to benefit from a contribution of about R6,3-billion in 2008 and R6,7-billion in 2009.

The GFIS will also contribute to employment opportunities, creating about 30 000 direct jobs and a further 138 900 indirect job opportunities, with the latter mainly in the low-wage bracket.

On completion, the total value of the infrastructure will provide a R39,7-billion contribution to capital formation, as well as R60-billion over a 20-year period.

Sanral will raise funds for the infrastructure upgrade through a tolling system. An electronic toll collection system will become operational after 2010, with the building of 50 gantries on existing roads.

The tollgates will use etags and surveillance equipment that are linked to processors with nameplate recognition software to tag vehicles as they enter on-ramps and exit off-ramps.

The processors will accordingly determine the distance travelled and bill the road user.

Watson says that no set fee for every kilometre has been decided on, but “we must emphasise that there will be discounts for buses, taxis and frequent users of about 40%”.

She adds that the toll fees are determined by looking at what motorists save – for instance, the cost of petrol and time lost while sitting stuck in traffic for two hours.

Further, road users will be able to pay the bill in a range of different options of their choice. All phases of the GFIS will be completed by 2010 to 2014.

ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORT OPTIONS

Sanral points out, however, that road building and development alone cannot manage growing transport and infrastructure needs in the region and that these will have to be supported by other initiatives, including the Gautrain project.

It is hoped that the Gautrain, which will be supported by a road-based feeder distribution system, will encourage travel between Pretoria and Johannesburg by train rather than by motor vehicle.

In addition, a national rail plan has identified rail corridors that are in need of urgent upgrades to meet the standard of the Gautrain development. These upgrades are in the progress, and stations as well as station security will be improved to ensure good service delivery.

Also, a bus rapid transit system is being implemented by the metro- politan councils, which will provide a high-quality public transit system with formal stations about 700 m apart.

Meanwhile, the implementation of HOV lanes on all major routes is being considered. The HOV lanes are dedicated for use by vehicles with multiple occupants. Research has indicated that currently about 20% of traffic would qualify to use the HOV lane.

“The lanes will be used predominantly by buses and taxis and should encourage people to use public transportation. No final decision has been made on whether it will work exactly as it did when tested on the Ben Schoeman freeway last year with only vehicles with three or more occupants allowed to use these lanes,” states Watson.

In an effort to encourage the use of public transport, positions for secure park-and-ride facilities or intermodal transfer points are being identified.

Lastly, the intelligent transport (i-Taffic) system, which was launched in October 2006 and is currently being piloted on the Ben Schoeman freeway, will be rolled out on all GFIS routes.

The i-Traffic uses technology to monitor, manage and increase freeway capacity. This includes the use of ramp metering and road sensors and close-circuit television cameras to immediately alert Sanral to accidents and other incidents, such as build-up of traffic, congestion, delays, travel time.

Images are transmitted through fibre-optic cable to a central control room in Midrand where Sanral is able to see incidents as they occur, allowing it to take corrective steps – for example, sending out emergency vehicles to accident scenes, as well as alerting road users of the incidents and other information by using message boards situated along the freeway.

“There are already 30 cameras installed, and there will eventually be several hundred installed along these routes. Cameras are currently being rolled out along 80 km on some of the major routes,” says Watson.

i-Traffic will include the implementation of ramp metering that is currently being implemented at the Samrand road south-bound, Roohuiskraal south-bound, New road north-bound and New road south-bound interchanges at the N1 Ben Schoeman freeway.

“The ramp metering is being installed and should be working with- in the next couple of weeks,” says Watson, explaining that it is used to aid traffic flow onto the freeway.

A traffic signal will indicate green and red on the on-ramp for short periods, during which time one or a few cars will be allowed through. This will only work during times of heavy traffic, and will otherwise indicate only green, with all cars allowed onto the freeway.

Camera law enforcement will be conducted at the traffic signals.