There have been significant changes in South Africa’s infrastructure over the past 20 years, primarily because a large portion of money from the State’s fiscus has been allocated to development.
However, the road infrastructure maintenance that needs to be undertaken is extensive, says engineering and design company WSP Group Africa divisional director Michael Bouwmeester.
“A lot of money is needed to get the roads in the condition they need to be to service the economy, owing to regular maintenance requirements and the well-known maintenance backlog.”
Bouwmeester adds that about 90% of all goods in South Africa are transported on road and that, over time, the network has deteriorated, leaving only about 30% of the network in “good to very good” condition.
He points out that State-owned utility the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) has an efficient maintenance regime in place in terms of tracking, identifying and planning improvements and upgrades.
Sanral has the most capacity and skill to develop and maintain roads, says Bouwmeester, but adds that several provincial institutions and municipalities lack the same capacity and skill.
“Having said this, there are provincial authorities that have good systems in place, which are evident in provinces, such as Gauteng and Western Cape,” notes Bouwmeester.
He notes that the “lack of skills and capacity is a worrying factor, as the road infrastructure is a huge asset to South Africa in terms of its cost”. Without adequate and constant maintenance, however, the cost of rehabilitating and rebuilding roads increases exponentially over time, Bouwmeester adds.
Further, he highlights that rehabilitating and rebuilding roads can become a political mandate, as people might regard road development as less important than social development.
A provincial road maintenance infrastructure grant has been instituted, which prioritises and allocates funds to roads maintenance, says Bouwmeester.
However, he points out that, although there are currently pockets of municipal road maintenance infrastructure funding, there is a need for a dedicated road grant at a municipal level.
“The municipalities manage the greatest length of road – about 400 000 km – in South Africa,” notes Bouwmeester.
“It is imperative to have adequately skilled people in the right places so that decisions can be made and development can take place,” he concludes.