The South African National Roads Agency Ltd (SANRAL) has started to upgrade a 47 kilometre stretch of the N2 between Grahamstown and the Fish River Pass in the Eastern Cape.
This new SANRAL Southern Region construction project – valued at R900 million – will take place in three phases over a period of six to seven years and entails geometric improvements traversing a mountainous terrain. In addition, climbing lanes will be added to steep sections of the road to improve the level of surface.
The project forms part of a long-term strategy to improve roads around and between Grahamstown and King Williams Town. It will also ensure improvements on the national road network that provides the economic link between Port Elizabeth and East London and which also serves as the west-east link between the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
“The existing road was built in the 1960s and currently does not meet SANRAL’s desired alignment and safety standards,” says Steven Robertson, SANRAL Southern region project manager. “An increase in traffic volumes, particularly heavy vehicles, over the past 10 years, has prompted the need for this road upgrade.
According to Robertson, SANRAL aims to improve sight distance for drivers in order to reduce road accidents and also reduce vehicle operating costs. The new road will also ensure travel-time savings for vehicle operators once completed.
Robertson believes the project will improve and prepare the N2 to support increasing volumes of motorists on this national road over the next 25 years and added that lower fuel consumption on the upgraded road will also reduce carbon emissions.
According to Robertson, the terrain and geological formations presented challenges in the design of the upgrade of the road. “In particular, large quantities of rocky materials have to be blasted and removed. At the Fish River pass, a special bypass is being constructed to allow the existing road to be widened.”
Robertson also says the presence of rare vegetation provided SANRAL with an opportunity to innovate through environmental stewardship. “The plant Oldenburgia Grandis only grows on quartzite outcrops and SANRAL collaborated with Rhodes University and funded a study and transplant programme for these plants. The project is being overseen by a post-graduate botany student,” he says.
The project will provide employment to 360 individuals. SANRAL is also implementing a training and employment programme for rural communities along the route.