Life­line for East­ern Cape

New road pro­ject set to cre­ate new and faster routes, job op­por­tu­ni­ties and serve as an aid to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

Financial Mail - - CORPORATE REPORT -

The in­tro­duc­tion of proper road in­fras­truc­ture can trans­form economies, and the N2 Wild Coast road pro­ject link­ing East Lon­don and Kwazulu-natal, which is start­ing to take shape, is ex­pected to pro­vide much-needed eco­nomic stim­u­lus to the East­ern Cape.

Af­ter decades of plan­ning and var­i­ous de­lays and com­mu­nity op­po­si­tion, the SA Na­tional Roads Agency (San­ral) is on track to get the pro­ject fin­ished by 2023.

Ex­ist­ing roads are be­ing up­graded and work­ers are al­ready on site at the mas­sive Mtentu bridge, the high­est bridge in Africa, in the OR Tambo area of the East­ern Cape.

The nearly R14bn road pro­ject over a 410km stretch from East Lon­don to the Mtamvuna river on the East­ern Cape/kwazulu-natal bor­der in­cludes a 112km new “green­fields” align­ment be­tween Nd­walane vil­lage (near Port St Johns) and the Mtamvuna river (near Port Ed­ward).

The pro­ject, a na­tional strate­gic in­te­grated pro­ject (SIP) and part of the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan and in­te­gral to Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s stim­u­lus pack­age, in­cludes two mega-bridges on the Msik­aba and Mtentu rivers; seven more ma­jor river bridges and sev­eral in­ter­change bridges; about 96km of new class 1 road; up­grad­ing of ex­ist­ing roads; and ring-road by­passes at Mthatha, Idutwya and But­ter­worth. The route, ex­pected to be fully com­plete in 2023, will cut up to 83km off the cur­rent routes and up to three hours off the trip for heavy freight ve­hi­cles. The new in­fras­truc­ture is ex­pected by San­ral and the govern­ment to be eco­nom­i­cally trans­for­ma­tive. The pro­ject has been long in the mak­ing and char­ac­terised by some dif­fi­cul­ties.

Orig­i­nally built in the 1930s and routed far in­land due to the deep gorges in the Pon­doland re­gion, the N2 be­tween Um­tata and Kwazu­lu­na­tal has caused sig­nif­i­cant trans­port bot­tle­necks, and se­ri­ous work was done in the 1970s with a view to con­struct­ing a coastal road.

The plan lay dor­mant un­til the late 1990s, when it was re­worked to go in­land to miss the highly sen­si­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal ar­eas along the Wild Coast. The shorter, flat­ter road is set to re­lieve the trans­port bot­tle­neck, re­duce trans­port costs, open up the eco­nomic flow be­tween Kwazulu-natal and the East­ern Cape and pro­vide im­proved ac­cess and mo­bil­ity to the Pon­doland area, says San­ral pro­ject man­ager Craig Mclachlan.

The route will be about 69km shorter than the cur­rent align­ment of the N2 and 83km shorter than the cur­rent align­ment of the R61.

“It is shorter and sig­nif­i­cantly flat­ter, sav­ing 1.5 hours travel time for cars and up to three hours for heavy freight, and the time cost im­pli­ca­tion is es­ti­mated at R1.5bn a year on cur­rent traf­fic vol­ume,” Mclachlan says. “That alone, be­fore ex­tra­ne­ous eco­nomic spinoffs, means the [green­field] pro­ject will pay for it­self in six to seven years.”

Spe­cial­ist stud­ies in­di­cate the new route will have a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive ef­fect on agri­cul­ture; forestry; man­u­fac­tur­ing; con­struc­tion; prop­erty de­vel­op­ment; fi­nance; real es­tate; tourism; and hos­pi­tal­ity.

“The ben­e­fit to the econ­omy over a 30-year pe­riod is es­ti­mated at R4.5bn per an­num. Even if this es­ti­mate is wildly op­ti­mistic and is

What it means: The pro­ject is set to have a sig­nif­i­cant re­turn on in­vest­ment for the two provinces by in­creas­ing eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity

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