The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) said it has reached a fiscal cliff and will no longer be able to fix the country’s rapidly-ailing road network nor expand it.
The agency is responsible for around 23,500km of primary intercity and economic roads out of the estimated 750,000km in the country.
As we speak, 80% of Sanral’s paved network is older than the original 20-year design life, resulting in a high risk of accelerated deterioration under a poor preventative maintenance regime.
Despite this unfortunate realisation, the national government is pushing ahead with its plans to move approximately 15,000km of the most neglected provincial roads under the Sanral umbrella, which will stretch what’s left of its budget even thinner, reports BusinessTech.
The argument for this is that these shoddy routes will be “better developed and managed” by Sanral than the current entities in charge of them, however, Sanral has now said that it must take “rational and prudent decisions” regarding its road network growth, how much it can support other authorities, and how many roads it can incorporate under its control.
Sanral said if its budget is not upped, it won’t be able to take over the additional 15,000km of road that is scheduled to move into its portfolio and it will have to reduce this figure by 80% to 3,000km.
“The agency does not have the financial and human capacity to take over the management of such a large network of roads. This new approach is of critical importance because previous road transfers were often done without the necessary budget transfers,” said Sanral.
“Subsequent additional budget allocations from National Treasury have not adequately met the life cycle costs requirements of the transferred roads.”
Despite these warnings, the national government is intent on giving Sanral in the realm of 35,000km of network to manage.
“This is informed by the acknowledgment of the performance Sanral has achieved over the last 20 years. Also acknowledging the prevailing challenges faced by other road authorities in effectively managing their networks,” it said.
Running out of time
Sanral currently has enough funds available to sustain the road network over the mid-term period, however, it does not have enough to address any added maintenance pressures or expansions that come after that.
“To address the basic requirements, strengthening backlog, as well as expansion requirement of its current network, Sanral will require [a] minimum of R15.753 billion per year over next 10 years, should the option of toll funding no longer be available,” it said.
This figure is only applicable if the current network length remains unchanged, though.
“Not doing expansions will result in increased congestion and associated increased road user costs on parts of the network,” said Sanral.
“Apart from the direct cost of the congestion on the economy (hours lost, productivity, and vehicle operating costs), the social impact of congestion on society is probably the biggest concern.”
Sanral said for any road approved to be transferred to it, there should be new funding allocations. It noted that it has already demonstrated the value and reaffirmed the role of private finance in this endeavour through the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) which includes the controversial e-toll scheme.
However, sufficient policies in this regard must still be implemented by the Department of Transport and National Treasury, and the current confusion over e-tolls must also be cleared up.
Until such actions are taken, the roads under Sanral’s jurisdiction are likely to fall further and further into disarray.
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