Sustained scientific involvement required to preserve roads, expert says

21st October 2022

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online


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Building roads to withstand climate change was a key topic at the seventh South African Roads Federation (SARF) Regional Conference for Africa on October 18, with environmental scientist and consultant Mervin Olivier warning of the danger of not involving environmental experts right at the beginning of infrastructure development.

Addressing the gathering of road experts and decision-makers from across the continent and the world, in Cape Town, Olivier was adamant that sustainability was vital at all stages of a project, not just when an environmental-impact assessment was needed or when construction was under way.

One of the participants at the conference was the South African National Roads Agency, which is responsible for building and maintaining South Africa’s national roads infrastructure.

Olivier said an integrated approach at inception would go a long way towards meeting the country’s Green Transport Strategy needs. This included a lifecycle assessment, as well as the services of a licensed landscape architect.

“Infrastructure planning and development can play a key role in addressing climate change and, in particular, climate mitigation and adaptation.

“Sustainability integrates the ecological, economic and social elements. The aim is to design roads that have a protracted life with less oxidation rates, loss of volatile oils and cracking or deformation,” he says.

South Africa has the eleventh longest road network in the world, measuring just over 750 000 km.

Olivier said most of this was poorly maintained, with 78% of the national road network exceeding its design life and 30% considered either in poor or very poor state. Of most concern was the condition of provincial gravel roads, where 50% was rated poor or very poor.

Olivier said urban bypasses, paving of gravel roads, reconstruction, rehabilitation and strengthening of urban roads could result in significant fuel savings and related improvements in air quality.

“We need a system of roads which minimises the environmental impact through the adoption of sustainable practices,” he emphasised.

He indicated the need to avoid sequential road planning and promote an integrated sustainable approach from the outset.

Counterproductive to this were factors such as poor procurement and contracting procedures which then undermined innovation, financial sustainability and, ultimately, roadway resilience, Olivier noted.

A sustainable road network, he argued, was one which minimised its environmental impact through adoption of sustainable practices.

These would include generating less energy, improving air quality, using less resources, adapting the transport system to better withstand emerging impacts of climate change, enhanced safety, financial sustainability and socially inclusive infrastructure. 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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