Home FleetWatch 2021 Road maintenance in SA: Not much to celebrate

Road maintenance in SA: Not much to celebrate

593
1
Bad roads are adding huge costs to the maintenance bills of South African truck operators.
Bad roads are adding huge costs to the maintenance bills of South African truck operators.

Did anyone know that April 8th was International Road Maintenance Day? Probably not as concentration was no doubt focussed on dodging the thousands of potholes that characterise our roads around the country.

To be honest, FleetWatch would have been totally unaware of this day had it not been brought to our attention by Philip Hendricks, President of the South African Road Federation, who says that  International Road Maintenance Day is “celebrated” worldwide on each first working Thursday of April, but that this year it was changed to take place on April 8th. Road maintenance in South Africa? Celebrated? Mmmmm! Whateveeer!

Potholes aide, Hendricks says that with the accent on road maintenance, it is important to use the occasion not only to recognise the challenges around road maintenance but also to acknowledge progress being made and offer solutions to accelerate the delivery of road maintenance projects. OK – so let’s give him to platform starting off with the face that South Africa boasts the world’s 10th longest road network (750 000 kilometres) and 18th longest paved road network. In 2014, its value was estimated at around R2-trillion.

“Roads are a vital public asset that can deliver a higher economic return on investment than any other single type of infrastructure,” says Hendricks, adding that the country’s road network has a pivotal role to play in the country’s economic recovery.

The Southern African Bitumen Association has stated that the condition of SA’s road network varies between transport authority and type of road. It reports that since 2017/18, the condition of many provincial roads and gravel roads have worsened.
The Southern African Bitumen Association has stated that the condition of SA’s road network varies between transport authority and type of road. It reports that since 2017/18, the condition of many provincial roads and gravel roads have worsened.

“However,” he says, “the condition of some of our roads is preventing this. Cash-strapped road users are especially affected, access to essential services is compromised while poor road maintenance also increases CO2 emissions. In rural areas, livelihoods are at stake because of lost production such as spoiled agriculture produce due to bad roads.”

Hendricks contends that since 1991, there has been a steady decline in the condition of our road network, especially at provincial and municipal levels. The reasons for this, he says, range from curtailed budget allocations for roads in the past and shrinking capacity in the public sector, resulting in inefficiencies in delivery. 

The Southern African Bitumen Association has stated that the condition of SA’s road network varies between transport authority and type of road. It reports that since 2017/18, the condition of many provincial roads and gravel roads have worsened and about half of South Africa’s gravel roads are in a poor or very poor condition. 

On the positive side, Hendricks says there are, however, national programmes that are working such as the Rural Roads Asset Management Systems Grant for municipal roads which is seeing 44 district municipalities across all provinces focus on developing road asset management systems, collecting roads data and prioritising projects. “Young professionals are being trained to build road sector management capacity at local government level. Based on its success, R127-million has been set aside for 2021/22, an investment that we welcome.

Now back to the bad news. According to Hendricks, this is not nearly enough though. “To adequately meet the maintenance requirements at local levels, 10 to 20 times more than the current spend is required. It is also disappointing that some of the graduates trained have been unable to be absorbed into the relevant road authorities due to the unavailability of posts,” he says. 

Cheerio tyre. Note the knife edge of this pothole. Cheerio tyre.
Cheerio tyre. Note the knife edge of this pothole. Cheerio tyre.

Looking at progress, he says the Provincial Roads Maintenance Grant saw 8,7-million square metres of roads re-sealed and 4 165 km of roads re-gravelled across all nine provinces during 2017/18. R13-billion is expected to be transferred to the provinces for 2021/22.

“In Gauteng, routine road maintenance projects across Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and Tshwane are set to commence with SANRAL recently announcing the appointment of contractors and an expected rollout over the next six months. These are further examples of the headway being made.”

Hendricks underscores interventions that could accelerate road maintenance. “We need to properly measure the cost of the road maintenance backlog, scale up skills development, consolidate the road network and decommission roads that are not contributing to the economy.” 

One of the problems is the exact funding requirements needed. “In 2014, the road maintenance backlog was reported as being R197-billion. Recent studies estimate it to be over R400-billion. However, the actual cost of our backlog is currently unknown.

“Data from the rural and provincial grant programmes is being collated in a central database housed by the National Department of Transport. Once this information is published, the road sector will be able to ascertain the full extent of the road maintenance funding requirement. We need to understand this cost. The road sector will be unable to manage the response if it is not first properly measured.”

Hendricks says, “Road authorities are obliged to publish annual reports on the condition of their roads and planned improvements. These reports are publicly available and promote visibility and accountability. However, because we are concerned about the skills and competencies that road maintenance depends on, each authority should include their human resources capacity and deficits in their annual reports. It is cheaper to train than to rehabilitate roads. Without timely maintenance, roads deteriorate to the point where the cost to restore them is three to five times more than if they had been timeously maintained.

“We also believe that the data being collated through the Provincial Roads Maintenance and Rural Roads Asset Management Systems grants should be used to better consolidate the road network and de-commission roads that are not contributing to economic and social needs,” says Hendricks. 

Two tyres on this car burst after the driver could not avoid a pothole. It could have been worse. The car could have rolled and killed everyone inside it – including the kids in this car. Bad roads are costing all road users in South Africa many thousands of Rands in damage. And they are killing people.
Two tyres on this car burst after the driver could not avoid a pothole. It could have been worse. The car could have rolled and killed everyone inside it – including the kids in this car. Bad roads are costing all road users in South Africa many thousands of Rands in damage. And they are killing people.

He rightfully points out that ultimately, it is road users, including businesses trying to recover (from the Covid impacts), who are paying the price for poor maintenance through crashes, delays, loss of productivity, missed economic opportunities and increased vehicle operating costs caused by potholes, cracks, etc.” 

The South African Road Federation runs numerous training programmes on road maintenance and construction. Since 2016, 850 road officials have been trained.

“Our mandate as the SA Road Federation is to provide a wide range of continuing professional development programmes to up-skill people, keep them abreast of the latest road trends and technologies and empower them to apply their skills when working on SA’s roads,” concludes Hendricks. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Our national assets’ tragic destruction is probably nowhere more visible than that being wrought on our country’s secondary road network by heavy commercial vehicles rendering them almost impassable in places. The state of secondary roads in the Free State, Limpopo, and Mapumalanga is well documented.
    Driving on the R527 and R40 around Hoedspruit in Limpopo will leave no one in doubt that this unfolding disaster is about to befall the local community as well. Until recently, rail appears to have been the preferred transportation method for coal from the Waterberg and magnetite from Phalaborwa to Maputo. The once-familiar sound of diesel/electric locomotives is now rare. Bulk side tipper combinations, which were seldom seen here until recently, now run in convoys (often up to ten at a time) on the R40. Suddenly the roads are full of potholes and distorted asphalt. Soon, these roads will be destroyed, endangering the local communities’ lives and driving up logistics costs. The Abel Erasmus pass on the R527 was never designed for such large commercial vehicles (ox wagons more likely). There is now at least one heavy commercial vehicle accident per week on the pass.
    The reality is:
    • Most of South Africa’s secondary road network was designed for 8 200kg axles, not the 9 000kg currently permissible.
    • Roads have a design lifespan based on x number of loaded axles on the road over a pre-determined period, not x² caused by the explosion of ore and minerals being moved by road.
    • Legally loaded heavy vehicles cause 40% of road pavement damage, which probably rises to 50% with poor tyre pressure management and overspeeding.
    • “Smart” trucks operate under abnormal load permits, which are, strictly speaking, illegal as the loads they carry are divisible.
    Is it not time we called the industry to account, and I am not talking only of the truckers?
    • Transnet Railfreight – how have they allowed a situation to develop where they cannot compete with road freight even for their core business or provide the required capacity? The once electrified track from Phalaborwa to Nelspruit is now run with diesel/electrics. How was this allowed to happen?
    • CSIR – promoting “smart” trucks that do not comply with the road traffic act and bypass its intentions and give certain operators a competitive advantage.
    • National Department of Transport – lack of coordination of legislation, under-recovery of vehicle license fees in certain provinces that have caused dwindling registration of heavy vehicles in other provinces and not coming up with a transport master plan for the country.
    • Mines and other industries move bulk ores to the ports by the cheapest mode with little or no thought of their socioeconomic impact.
    • Eskom – no power to beneficiate minerals and ores (increasing tonnages moved by road) while also adding to the destruction of the country’s secondary road network by not having a comprehensive plan for their coal logistics requirements for power stations.
    • Trucking companies – short-term profits with little consideration for their actions’ economic impact on our damaged economy.
    The government has neither the money nor the competencies to fix this problem. The current situation is not sustainable for any of the players.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

11 + 15 =