Road users in the freight and agricultural industries have mixed feelings about ongoing upgrades to the N3 highway connecting Johannesburg and Durban.
Although leaders in both industries have welcomed the upgrades by the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) and the department of transport, concerns exist about possible disruptions and future safety.
SANRAL regional manager Dumisani Nkabinde recently said that the multibillion-rand upgrade will save motorists and the freight industry 6 300 hours per day, and the economy R1.76 million each day. SANRAL also believes the addition of traffic lanes will reduce road incidents and congestion following incidents.
In response Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association (RFA), said that the projected savings sounded very similar to the claims and substantiation used for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) and e-tolls in Gauteng.
“These are very wide and yet untested and unsubstantiated claims around the benefits of the upgrade. However, the association will always support well-designed, traffic-loaded and maintained roads.”
Kelly said that this will ensure better efficiencies, lower operating costs due to less wear and tear on vehicles and infrastructure, and greater productivity for all forms of road transport.
Fewer incidents and less congestion
He believes that building additional lanes might reduce incidents and subsequent congestion.
“But this is not always true. There is much experience from the multi-lanes in Gauteng to support this. However, the reasoning is valid. More lanes in a direction do allow for more options, depending on what the incident entails.
“Would it not be better to understand why the incidents occur on those sections of the route and to address these?”
He added that the long-term effect on safety should also be analysed. “There is also the worry that multiple lanes will encourage faster speeds, not necessarily from the freight vehicles, and will allow for behaviours of lane changing without proper observation and due consideration for all vehicles.
“Multiple lanes on severe gradients (steep hills) where types of vehicle classes are split from one another is a good approach. Is this perhaps what is needed to reduce incidents?” he asked.
Agri SA supports N3 upgrades
Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA’s executive director, welcomed the upgrades and indicated that Agri SA is in great support of government’s greater infrastructure plan.
“This plan covers a couple of areas such as roads, dams and water supply. It also focuses on telecommunications and it also focuses on rail infrastructure. All of these things are greatly welcomed because it will give our economy a massive boost.”
Van der Rheede feels that the focus should not only be on national roads. “We’ve got serious challenges within the provinces and in many towns where roads are in a seriously dilapidated state. So much so that some of these roads pose a great danger to motorists.
“But with regard to the N3 we welcome it; we support it. Yes, some of these upgrades will cause disruptions, but our appeal to the contractors is that they need to make sure that they minimise these disruptions because our trucks run 24 hours a day.”
Van der Rheede emphasised that it’s very important that trucks carrying agricultural goods get to their destination as soon as possible. The N3 upgrades should therefore not be postponed or be allowed to be dragged out as that will exacerbate the problems currently experienced in road transport.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.