Historic Swartberg Pass open again
REPAIR work on the Swartberg Pass after a devastating flash flood in April was finished in a record six months, with the final cost set to come in at R20 million less than budgeted for by the provincial government.
The road – one of the most important tourist routes in the Karoo – was opened a week ago after about 2.5km on the northern side, close to Prince Albert, was washed away on April 9 by heavy rains.
The new road was restored to its initial historic state, with retaining walls to be completed within the next three months. The official reopening is planned for March.
From Thursday evenings to Monday mornings the road is completely open, but will be monitored on a stop-go basis during the rest of the week.
Transport and Public Affairs MEC Donald Grant managed the project and initially estimated that it would be completed after 18 months.
R30 million was budgeted to repair the road, but only about R10 million had been spent, said department spokesperson, Byron la Hoe.
Special care was taken to restore the road to its initial state. Grant recently visited the works team and congratulated them for their skills and exceptional progress.
Annelie Rabie, a resident of Prince Albert and member of the Central Karoo Regional Municipality, said the opening of the road was excellent news for tourism and businesses .
“The road closure proved that Prince Albert’s economy is seriously dependent on tourists visiting the area. Since April we have lost a huge income as many travellers like bikers and cyclists, individual tourists and tourists groups just didn’t visit us as the main attraction of the area wasn’t available any more. The devastation caused by the heavy rains and flash flood also showed us that the pass is extremely vulnerable in stormy conditions. We have to manage environmental challenges like erosion. The maintenance and repair within the historic framework create risks that we have to monitor constantly.”
According to Rabie, the repair work generated income for about 50 households. “These people can now boast an extra skill with regard to road repair and intricate stone work. They can be employed in future for, among others, the repair of our old historic graveyards in the area.”
La Hoe said the final completion for the Swartberg Pass is planned for March, possibly with a plaque to remind travellers of the recent destruction to the building work done by Thomas Bain and his team in the 1880s.