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Sep 26, 2008

Busiest freeways in southern hemisphere

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Busiest freeways in southern hemisphere

Gauteng has some of the busiest freeways in the southern hemisphere. More than 400 km long, they serve 1,4-million people who travel 40-million vehicle kilometres and spend 600 000 person hours a day on the road.

During rush hour, speeds drop down to as little as 20 km/h and some sections of the freeway network have extended peak periods of up to three hours.

Congestion is a phenomenon of thriving global cities, but this growth comes at a price. People spend an increasing amount of time on the roads, impacting both productivity and leisure time. Congestion increases vehicle running costs and pollutes the fragile environment through excessive emissions. With the average traffic growth a year on the freeways predicted to be up to 7%, unless actively addressed, the congestion situation will only worsen.

Coupled with this is the fact that road damage and the cost of reconstruction accelerate as a road nears the end of its design life. Many of the roads are reaching the close of their 30-year design life span.

Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project

Gauteng, the economic heartland of South Africa, generates nearly 38% of the total value of South Africa's economic activities. As a result, development in housing, offices, retail and industrial properties has grown significantly over the past ten years, resulting in above average traffic growth. Unfortunately, provision of road infrastructure has not kept up with the increased traffic demand, resulting in a road and freeway network that limits the economic growth of the region.

As a result of the 180 000 vehicles which use the highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria during peak hours, the peak periods on that section of road have increased to three hours, twice a day. The congestion in Gauteng affects the quality of life of road users, their productivity at work and the time available to spend with their families or at leisure. This is true for both drivers and users of public transport, which is largely road based. The stop-go conditions are also detrimental to vehicle condition, road safety and the emissions experienced in congested traffic.

In order to improve the current traffic flow situation and to provide a road network that will stimulate the development potential in the province, the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) proposed an improvement to the Gauteng freeway network by upgrading the existing network, as well as the provision of additional infrastructure. The proposed improvements have been further refined after consultation with provincial and local governments, leading to the development of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

In principle, the objective of the scheme is to provide an interconnected network of inner and outer ring roads as a solution to the traffic congestion experienced in Gauteng, which will also directly link the historically neglected areas of the western and southern townships of Johannesburg. The solution will be beneficial to public transport, private and road freight users. Such a network will enhance the concept of network management whereby users have alternative options available, or can be diverted in the event of incidents occurring on certain links of the network.

During the initial construction period, Phase 1 from July 2008 to May 2010, the existing network will be improved by the addition of lanes and improvement of intersections, bringing most of the roads up to four or six lane capacity in each direction, and allowing for free-flow interchanges where the need exists.

Phase 2 will involve the building of new freeway sections, completing a second ring road and providing alternatives to the current freeway system, and opening up new areas for development.

In order to provide a safe, secure and a congestion free road network, the following operations, maintenance and expansion strategy is anticipated:

The implementation of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) for the effective management of the network. ITS devices such as closed circuit televisions will assist in early detection of incident/crashes and assistance/clearance thereof. Thereby, a safer and secure road environment can be achieved. This has been successfully piloted on the Ben Schoeman between Johannesburg and Tshwane since 2006.

Focus on promotion of public transport through the proposed scheme - high occupancy vehicle lanes which will allow for development of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the future.

The provision of lighting which is required for ITS and will improve roadside security.

Improved Incident Management. The use of cameras will be supplemented by route patrol services, and close relationships with emergency services to assist road users in the event of breakdowns or where incidents/accidents occur.

The GFIP will be funded by the user pay principle (tolling), which will ensure dedicated funding for maintenance of the GFIP network, as well as expansion of the network in the future to ensure congestion can be kept to a minimum.

Every vehicle will be issued with a "transponder" and as the vehicle passes under gantries, placed approximately 10 km apart, an automatic transaction will take place. Vehicles of day visitors, rental vehicles and/or those who do not have transponders will be photographed and accounts submitted for payment. It will become an offence not to have a transponder in a vehicle, and not pay toll fees, and fines will be collected through the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) legislation.

The GFIP will allow unimpeded growth of the Gauteng region, and will contribute R29-billion to the growth domestic product and R13-billion to the regional geographic gross productivity by the end of 2009. Nearly 30 000 direct and 129 300 indirect jobs will be created during construction, and R3,7-billion (41% of the total contract expenditure), will be given to small-, medium-, and micro-sized enterprises and black enterprise.

The project is also designed to ensure inter-modal facilities between Metrorail, the Gautrain, bus and taxi routes, giving people an opportunity to use public transport or vehicle sharing as an alternative to the use of single people in a vehicle, which adds to the current congestion.

Seveb Work Packages in Freeway Project

The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project has been divided into several distinct packages and Sanral has announced that these road works will be suspended in May 2010 to enable an unobstructed road network for the FIFA 2010 World Cup for a period of three months, and the contracts completed, if needs be, after August 2010.

Towards the end of 2010, the roads will be tolled, with a method called Open Road Tolling, which will involve the obligatory use of transponders in all vehicles. Electronic tolling will also be introduced.

The system will provide special facilities for public transport within the roads, and also give opportunities for intermodal transport, connecting bus and taxi services, as well as Metrorial and the Gautrain.

At a ceremony in June 2008, to mark the start of construction for Phase 1, Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe emphasised that the road construction would play an important part in allowing the economy of the region to grow, unencumbered by excessive congestion.

"The ‘veins and arteries' of our road system must be kept open to allow unimpeded growth," he said.

Sanral is managing the project, which is a true reflection of cooperation between various layers of government, including the Gauteng province and the three local authorities of Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, and Johannesburg.

Work Package A involves the 17 km of road between the Golden Highway and 14th Avenue, and a further 1 km on the N12, between Diepkloof Interchange and the M1, towards the south-west of Johannesburg.

Work Package B will deal with the north western and northern sections of the ring road, 21 km of road and interchanges on the N1 between 14th Avenue and Buccleuch.

Work Package C involves working on 23 km of the southern hemisphere's busiest highway, the Ben Schoeman, between Buccleuch and Brakfontein.

Work Package D is for the construction of work on a total of 15 km of road on the N1, between Brakfontein and the R21 interchange.

Work Package E is situated in the south-east, with 12 km of road on the N3 between Old Barn and Geldenhuys Interchanges and 4 km of the N12 between Reading and Elands Interchanges.

Work Package F is for 17,6 km of the eastern section of the ring road, the N3 between Geldenhuys and Buccleuch.
.
The N12 upgrade, consists of work to be carried out on 10 km of the N12, between the N3 (Gillooly's) and the R21 interchange, and the N3 section between the N12 and Modderfontein interchanges.

Construction of improvements on 27 km of the R21 and N12 will begin when the tender process for these sections are complete.

Toll roads do not deserve their bad name

Toll roads, often viewed as an unfair evil, are a worldwide practice and the answer to South Africa's road network needs.

Sanral CEO Nazir Alli says, "It is thanks to the tolling system that we do not have to endure the long wait for tax revenues to provide roads. Importantly, the income from the tolls ensures that we have dedicated funding for maintenance."

Also known as the user pay principle, the concept has been around since gatekeepers manned ancient turnpikes and it is used internationally to fund road projects.

There is, he says, a misconception that tolls are a form of double taxation. "This is not so. Because it is only used for that portion of the road it applies to, it is much like paying for the parking at malls. Taxes are not used to fund toll roads and therefore individual tax obligations are actually reduced by the user pay system."

Alli emphasises that the new electronic toll facilities to be introduced on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project will reduce or eliminate the inconvenience, delays and safety concerns associated with drivers having to stop and pay toll manually.

Among numerous other advantages he lists are the fact that they ensure a high quality road network, contributing to improved road safety and, generally, reduce travelling times and distances. This saves on vehicle running costs and reduces the carbon footprint. They also provide dedicated funding for maintenance and upgrading.

"Toll facilities offer value and choice for everyone. Users should view them as a business. In exchange for payment, the customer receives value, in the form of time savings, convenience, and better maintained roads," he concludes.

For further information on construction, lane and road closures please visit the www.nra.co.za, and use the link to www.i-traffic.co.za, where you can register for sms notifications of closures on your route.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter

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