Several road networks in Joburg have been earmarked for major revamps in the next 36 months, as part of a wide-ranging Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

According to the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), seven contracts worth R11,5-billion have already been issued to contractors, and construction work will begin soon. This, however, is only the first phase of the GFIP.

Sanral is the parastatal charged with improving, managing and maintaining the national road network. It will spearhead the project with the national and the provincial government, as well as the City of Johannesburg. Other metros will also be involved.

It is estimated that R14-billion from the provincial government will be allocated to build new roads between 2010 and 2013, forming the second phase of the GFIP. The project has been devised to speed up developing and upgrading road networks, in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cupâ„¢.

Ben Schoeman Highway
The Ben Schoeman Highway – which links South Africa’s biggest metro, Joburg, with its capital city, Tshwane – is tipped to be among the main thoroughfares that will consume a big slice of the cash allocated to the project. It is arguably the busiest road in the country and is always congested; bumper-to-bumper traffic frequently crawls along the highway, sometimes even stopping. This reduces the productivity of commuters.

“Traffic in the Gauteng area has reached the stage where heavy congestion inhibits economic growth, leads to frustration and loss of productivity of road users, and damages the environment through excessive emissions,” reads a press statement posted on Sanral’s website.

In the next three years, some 125,5 kilometres of road in Gauteng will be overhauled, including roads in Nasrec that link the N17 and northern Soweto; the N1 ring road around Johannesburg to the Golden Highway, and the N1 from the Albertina Sisulu Freeway split to the Buccleuch interchange.

The Ben Schoeman Highway on the N1 will receive an additional lane in each direction, and another two lanes will be added to the Albertina Sisulu Freeway.

The entire project will involve a provision of additional lanes; interchange improvements; and intelligent transport management systems, including cameras, ramp metering and electronic signage.

Economic development
“Our aim is to ensure that our transport networks at no stage in the future hamper our economic development or progress,” said Jeff Radebe, the minister of transport. “We should not into the future wish we could have done things differently as that may cost us success as a country in meeting our developmental objectives.”

A major challenge for the province is to set up transport infrastructure that will support its envisaged economic growth and meet the needs of the majority of its residents.

Transport infrastructure is an important element of a competitive global city region, which is what the Gauteng government wants of the province. Its transport plan entails the construction of new roads and the improvement or maintenance of existing ones, ultimately meeting the transport infrastructure needs of the World Cup.

The GFIP will expand existing roads and freeways and build new roads towards facilitating economic node connections and public transport corridors. One of the plan’s aims is to link historically marginalised townships on the urban periphery, with economic hubs.

To promote the use of public transport, the roads will include high occupancy vehicle lanes that can be integrated with Bus Rapid Transit systems and taxi routes.

“Surely, the success of our public transport system cannot be achieved without proper planning and investment in its infrastructure and services,” Radebe said.

Construction on some of the roads includes the doubling of the roads between Fourways and Diepsloot; completion of the link along Dobsonville Road between the K15 and Main Reef Road; and the construction of a dual carriageway between Protea Glen and Leratong, south of the city.

The N1 from Soweto to the N4 in Pretoria; the N3 from Alberton to Buccleuch; sections of the N12 south of Johannesburg, including the N12 from Gilloolys to the Albertina Sisulu Freeway to Boksburg will also be upgraded.

“Work has been prioritised to be substantially complete for the 2010 World Cup,” Radebe noted.

It is estimated that the construction of new roads in Gauteng will create over 14 000 jobs, of which more than 4 000 will be allocated to women, 2 000 to youngsters and almost 300 to the disabled.

The safety of road users, motorists, commuters and construction workers is imperative during construction. “Sanral urges the public to drive carefully through construction sites, which will be policed, keeping strictly to posted temporary speed limits, and not slowing down to look at construction activities,” its statements reads.

“The long term benefits will more than compensate for the temporary inconvenience of construction activities.” Sanral urges people “to exercise extreme caution on the entire network during construction … We thank all road users, in advance, for their co-operation.”

In addition, as part of the planned expenditure, a new electronic billing system that will be used to toll every highway linked to Joburg will be implemented by 2010.

This means motorists will pay 30 cents per kilometre and R5 in toll levies to travel between Tshwane and Joburg everyday. The billing system will work together with automatic licence recognition cameras that will feed information into the electronic national traffic information system.

Eventually motorists will be able to pay their toll fees in advance or wait for their bills to be posted to them. Already a toll point is being built on the Ben Schoeman Highway in Centurion, Tshwane; another one will be built in Sandton, northern Joburg.