World-beating mega bridges to boost Wild Coast economy
To boost Wild Coast economy
The new Wild Coast highway, which includes some of the longest and tallest bridges in the world, will revitalise one of the country's poorest regions
A modern new highway being built along the Eastern Cape's remote Wild Coast will feature two massive bridges, the longest and highest in Africa, that will bring much-needed investment to one of
the country's poorest regions.
Two massive megabridges will soon connect communities and speed up investment into the deep rural areas of the Eastern Cape's Wild Coast. The bridges form the backbone of the South African National Roads Agency's (Sanral) N2 Wild Coast Toll Road construction project.The full project runs from Durban down the coast to East London.The “greenfields” section of brand new highway will extend modern road infrastructure for 110 kilometres from Port Edward on the border of KWAZULU-NATAL southwards along the Eastern Cape coast to Port St Johns.
Sanral is a state-owned enterprise under the Department of Transport. Its mandate is to finance, improve, manage and maintain the national road network.
The new coastal highway will halve the distance travelled between Port Edward and Port St Johns.At the moment, the fastest route between the towns runs for some 200 kilometres inland along the R61 road.
The N2 Wild Coast highway is a national priority directed by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission. It is one of government's 18 Strategic Integrated Projects to support economic development and improve service delivery in the poorest provinces.
The first megabridge will cross the Mtentu river outside Xolobeni, and the second the Msikaba river near Lusikisiki. They are essential segments of the highway.
“The bridges form part of the greenfields section of the Wild Coast highway project,” says Edwin Kruger,
Sanral's bridge network manager. “This section is a brand new road and without the bridges we cannot complete the highway.”
The Mtentu bridge will be the first of its size in South Africa, and one of the longest main-span balanced cantilever bridges in the world. It will reach heights of up to 220 metres – more than two kilometres – making it the highest bridge in Africa.
The last time South Africa built a megabridge was in the early 1980s, during the construction of the N2 Tsitsikamma. That was the 217-metre Bloukrans arch bridge, currently the tallest bridge in the southern hemisphere. When the Mtentu bridge is complete, it will exceed the Bloukrans record.
The second megabridge will stretch 1.1 kilometres across the spectacular and pristine Msikaba River gorge. It will be the longest cable-stayed suspension bridge in South Africa – and possibly the whole of Africa, Kruger says.
“Cable-stayed bridges are distinct in their use of towers and cables to support the bridge deck,” he says. “This single-span bridge will be anchored back into rock on either side of the gorge.” A famous example of a cable-stayed bridge – although a lot smaller – is the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg.
The construction of these massive bridges in a remote rural area is a major undertaking, requiring specialised engineering skills and building techniques.
“No South African firm has ever built a balanced cantilever bridge of this magnitude before. As such, South African tenderers have joint ventured with international firms to bring skills and expertise into the bridge's construction,” Kruger says.
“The construction of these massive bridges in a remote rural area requires specialised engineering skills and building techniques.”
Business, skills and work for locals
“Both bridges have a large concrete component, so labour will be needed for fixing steel and placing the concrete for the bridges. Semi-skilled and unskilled labour will be sourced locally,” Kruger adds.
Craig McLachlan, Sanral's southern region project
manager, says that as part of the road agency's SMME development programme, local Wild Coast small businesses are already being given the skills they need to take part in the project. This is in the form of full learnerships teaching a combination of road construction and business skills.
“The SMME development programme will ensure that jobs created by the N2 greenfields project can be filled by local contractors,” he says.
SMME participation is an essential component of all Sanral projects. Over R1.5 billion will go to SMMEs in the construction the 110 kilometres of new roads and bridges. It is estimated that this will help create 50 000 direct and indirect jobs in the local community, both during and after construction.
McLachlan says that as wages earned typically have a multiplication effect in the local economy of two to three times, this job creation will further boost local livelihoods.
Protecting the Pondoland biome
The Wild Coast is one of South Africa's most beautiful regions, a place of untouched grassy plateaus incised by subtropical forested ravines and gorges. Its Pondoland biome of indigenous and endemic plant life forms part of the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany biodiversity hotspot, a unique floral region.
One environmental requirement in Sanral's Wild Coast highway project is that it have as little impact on this precious landscape as possible.The cable-stayed
Msikaba bridge was therefore designed to ensure that its construction would not damage the environment in the gorge more than 200 metres below.
Environmental lobby groups have expressed concern about the new N2 highway's impact on the Pondoland biome. During the environmental impact assessment phase of the project, Sanral used specialist studies to ensure that its route avoids the most sensitive areas of Pondoland.
But some damage is unavoidable, so Sanral has established comprehensive environmental mitigation measures that include a search and rescue programme for threatened and protected plant species.
“Before we start any construction we will send a specialised team into the area to retrieve bulbs, succulents, and other plants that can be relocated,” says McLachlan.
“We have set up nurseries that then preserve and further propagate these plants. These plants are then used for rehabilitation, and when we have an excess they will be translocated into protected areas such as the Mkambati Nature Reserve.”
More than this, a biodiversity offset agreement with the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Board will ensure that the Pondoland biome is preserved for generations.The agreement sets out the declaration, rehabilitation and ongoing protection of some 15 000 hectares of new protected areas.
Pedestrian sidewalks will be constructed on each side of the bridges, and view sites off the bridges will provide special viewing points for tourists.The sidewalks will also connect previously separated communities on either side of the gorges.
“The Msikaba and Mtentu bridges will become tourist attractions in their own right, and will offer opportunities for the associated tourism industry in the area,” Kruger says.
Catalyst for development
The Mtentu and Msikaba bridges, and the new section of highway constructed for the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road, will improve travel time, connect divided communities in the region and open up investment and tourism opportunities.
“By improving the travel time between Durban and East London by up to three hours for heavy freight and by providing a high mobility route through an area that is currently extremely isolated and underserved by road infrastructure, the route will have significant social and economic benefits and will act as a catalyst for local and regional development,” McLachlan says.
Until now, the deeply incised gorges and river valleys of the Wild Coast have impeded road building, putting a brake on economic development in one of South Africa's poorest regions.