Completion of Sanral’s R104m triple bridge project in Limpopo to improve local travel

21st August 2023 By: Darren Parker - Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

Three bridges built by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) for a total of R104-million are expected to enable communities around Vaalwater, in Limpopo, to travel shorter distances to go to school and visit families, while local businesses will now be able to save on fuel when moving goods. Taxi and bus commuters will also arrive at their destinations quicker.

The completed construction of the three bridges on the R33 road will link Vaalwater with the town of Lephalale.

One of the bridges, the Merriespruit bridge, was built across the Merriespruit river, to replace the old steel culvert that was completely washed away during severe floods at the end of 2013. At the time, the road was under the jurisdiction of the Limpopo Roads Agency, but the road was subsequently handed over to Sanral in 2014.

The R33 was completely closed to all but 4x4 vehicles, until a temporary bridge structure was built by a contractor working at Medupi power station and was paid for by local farmers and business people. Even then, heavy vehicles travelling between Vaalwater and Lephalale needed to take the longer R517 and R510 deviation route.

Two other steel pipe bridges on the Brakspruit and Barberkuil rivers were found to also be very badly rusted and, therefore, Sanral decided to also build new structures at these locations.  

The construction of the three new bridges created subcontracting opportunities for 19 local businesses who hired locals and provided services that included security, plant hire, fencing and accommodation. 

“The Merriespruit bridge will also reduce our travel time and improve the efficiency of transport networks, which will facilitate the movement of goods and people across the borders and enhance regional economic integration.  We were taking it for granted during Sanral stakeholders’ engagement in Lephalale when they announced that they are coming to fix the R33 road. The reopening of the Merriespruit bridge relieves stress,” says Waterberg Taxi Association taxi driver Abel Motimele.

“The stress of taking alternative routes riddled with potholes is gone,” adds Vaalwater resident long-distance truck driver Joseph Ledwaba.

“[The bridge] will help consumers’ access greater diversity of goods at lower prices. . . . Local small, medium-sized and microenterprises (SMME) [will also] benefit,” says Lephalale Chamber of Business chairperson Kati Mogai.

Lephalale-based black-owned local SMME Vhusunzi Group was subcontracted to G4 Civils, the main contractor with Sanral in the project to fence the bridges. Vhusunzi employed eight previously unemployed people.

“It took us seven weeks to complete our job. We started with the fencing project in mid-2021 when damages caused by Covid-19 were still in our minds,” Vhusunzi MD Tebogo Sadiki says.

Security company Makgabathe Security Services was contracted to protect Sanral materials on the building site.

“No burglaries happened. We created job opportunities for five people to work day and night shifts. When we create jobs, we reduce the number of youth roaming on the streets,” Makgabathe risk manager MW Maphila says.

Sanral northern region project manager Alan Agaienz explains that the construction of the Merriespruit bridge started in May 2021.

“When the new Merriespruit bridge was being constructed, Sanral also replaced the rusted steel-ribbed culverts on the adjacent Brakspruit and Barberskuil streams with brand new reinforced concrete bridges. G4 Civils was contractually bound to advertise and award 40% of the contract to targeted enterprises from the local Modimolle and Lephalale municipal areas and employ 8% of the labour from locals. The work uplifted the local sub-contractors and provided jobs to unemployed locals,” he says.

Agaienz adds that the work also has benefits for the local hospitality industry through the requirement of workers to be housed during the project.

He notes that the main contractor also made use of local companies for the supply of various materials. 

Sanral appointed about 19 targeted enterprises to render services in security, plant hire, fencing, accommodation, asphalt surfacing, gabions, guardrails, concrete, major culvert structures, road marking, stone pitching and the supply of fuel, as well as cement.

“As far as the employment of monthly labour is concerned, at one month up to 146 locals and 15 non-locals were employed, of which 59 were youth from both Lephalale and Modimolle. The majority of female employees worked as flaggers on the stop-go operations. About 124 people received accredited generic skills training in both Lephalale Modimolle-Mookgophong municipal areas,” Agaienz says.

He adds that it was decided to provide Code 10 learners and driver’s licence training to selected community members. A total of 31 young people from Lephalale and Modimolle-Mookgophong received Code 10 driver’s licences as a result.

The construction of the three new bridges has had a number of positive benefits. The temporary bridge at Merriespruit was built on a curve and was the site of many accidents, a number of which were fatal, in spite of extensive road markings and signage, Leo Consulting Engineers resident engineer Hendre du Preez explains.

“The new bridge Barberkuil has replaced the old, rusted Armco steel culverts and the risk of imminent collapse as occurred at Merriespruit has been eliminated. The hydraulic capacity at all three river crossings has been greatly improved, thus reducing the risk substantially for closure of the road due to flooding,” he says.

De Preez believes that the new roadway width over the bridges of 13.4 m, which includes paved shoulders that are 3 m wide, will substantially increase mobility as well as safety for travellers.

“The bypasses were all decommissioned when the newly constructed bridges were opened to traffic on March 8,” he says.

G4 Civils contracts manager Hendri Strauss notes that, although there were some initial misunderstandings and differences in opinion in working with the project liaison committee (PLC), the problem-solving approach ensured that the three bridges were completed successfully.

Du Preez believes that this project was unique in that there were members selected to work on the PLC from both Modimollie-Mookgopong and Lephalale municipal councils because the three bridges were located on the exact boundary between them, which complicated the procedures and proceedings.

Sanral northern region routine road maintenance project manager Evelyn Sambo says that the condition of the road from Vaalwater to Lephalale is being worsened by the passage of increasing number of heavy vehicles using the newly-opened route.

She says that it is a “headache” to keep up with maintenance requirements and hopes that the improvement project that Sanral is designing between the two towns of Vaalwater and Lephalale can be implemented soon.