His­toric Swart­berg Pass open again

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - MARLEN MALAN

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.

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