World-beat­ing mega bridges to boost Wild Coast econ­omy

To boost Wild Coast econ­omy

Public Sector Manager - - Contents - Writer: Mary Alexan­der

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.”

Record-break­ing bridges

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.

(Im­age: Pa­trik M Lo­eff, Cre­ative Com­mons, via Flickr)

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.

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