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