The Department of Transport briefed the Committee on its road maintenance plans. It included details of the extent and condition of roads in South Africa, and highlighted problems associated with funding of capital projects and maintenance, inadequate data on the condition of roads, and co-ordination of efforts by the various government entities involved. It pointed out in particular that the national Department was only responsible for, and therefore had a budget only for maintenance of national roads. Often it did not receive reports on conditions of other roads, which made it difficult to plan properly. Visual condition data showed that 10,68% of the country’s roads were in a “very poor” condition, and a further 19,61% were considered poor. The rest ranged from fair to very good. Problems included that most roads, being more than 20 years old, were at the end of their design life and the transport of bulk goods compounded the maintenance issues. The relationship between the various bodies involved in roads service delivery was outlined. The total number of jobs created had exceeded the target planned for access road allocation.
Members asked why there had not been any mention of the dedicated fund announced by the Minister for allocation across all three tiers of government. Several commented that the issue of heavy goods needing to be conveyed by rail, not road, was also again not addressed, to which the Department responded that there were several logistical problems, including known overloading, lack of rolling stock and time taken for rail transport. Members asked about training of communities who were repairing gravel roads, what attempts were made to collect data, why there appeared to be challenges in making investment decisions, and why local authorities were not doing regular maintenance inspections. The Chairperson pointed out that lack of maintenance in poorer communities had been highlighted already in 1995 and questioned why only now, when it had become a major problem, it was being addressed. Members also questioned why the allocations from the General Fuel Levy did not appear on the plans. Members questioned the sustainability of the jobs created, what was being done about unproclaimed roads, and suggested that toll roads should be discussed at a future meeting.
The Ugu Municipality described how a community-orientated approach had been adopted to address potholes in this district. A new method, using a cold mix, was adopted, which made it possible to stockpile materials, lasted longer, was labour intensive and therefore provided opportunities for youth and community training, and used local suppliers. Over 5 250 potholes were repaired by 65 people in three months. Members were generally impressed by this initiative, but enquired about the costs, and the balance of labour and machinery. They felt this approach should be adopted elsewhere. They questioned whether participants were still reliant on social grants, and the development potential. The causes of potholes were queried.
Road Maintenance plans: Department of Transport (DoT) briefing
Mr Prasanth Mohan, Director: Infra-Network Management, Department of Transport, said South Africa had an estimated 746 978 km of roads, of which 153 719 were paved, 453 259 were gravel, and the balance of around 140 000 were un-proclaimed. The availability of data on the condition of these roads varied from 100% on the 16 170km of paved roads under the authority of South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), to only 4% on the 339 849km of municipal roads. He pointed out that if the extent and condition of the road network was not known, it was difficult to make sound road investment decisions.
Based on visual condition data, 10,68% of the country’s roads were in a “very poor” condition, and a further 19,61% were considered poor. The rest ranged from fair to very good.
Mr Mohan said a major problem was the fact that most roads were more than 20 years old, and were at the end of their design life. More bulk goods were being transported by road, compared to rail, than in the past, and there were insufficient funds to cope with the maintenance backlogs. Roads were only one of many social services competing for government funding.
While the DoT was being held accountable for the current state of the country’s road infrastructure, it did not have a Constitutional mandate to work on road infrastructure except on the national roads. This implied that the DoT did not get any budgets other than for the national roads. At municipal and local level, there was inadequate inspection and monitoring of the condition of the roads, so there was only a limited amount of data to put into the decision support system.
Mr Mohan outlined the relationship between the various bodies involved in road service delivery, such as the Roads Co-ordinating Body (RCB) and the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) Access Roads Co-Ordinating Committee. He also identified 15 strategic interventions (EPWP projects) aimed at creating skills, jobs and economic opportunities. A Construction and Maintenance Summit was due to be held later in May.
He concluded by saying that although the extent of labour intensity varied from province to province, the total number of jobs created had exceeded the target planned for access road allocation.
Mr S Farrow (DA) said he was disappointed that there were two matters lacking from the Department’s presentation. The first related to the Minister’s announcement that there would be a dedicated fund to be allocated across all three tiers of government. The second was the road-to-rail argument. He still wanted to know why it was not possible to legislate that bulk freight carriers should be compelled to use rail transport.
Dr A Luthuli (ANC) agreed that only goods trains should move heavy material. Traffic police were spending a disproportionate amount of time inspecting trucks for overloading, instead of enforcing safety on the roads. Apart from this, slow-moving trucks caused frustration among other road users, and this led to accidents.
Mr Louw Kannemeyer, Road Network Manager, SANRAL, said the current road-rail situation had a lot to do with the change in business methods in recent years. The JIT (Just In Time) method of ordering goods to keep inventories to a minimum meant that suppliers no longer used rail to ship in bulk, but relied on quicker road deliveries. Products like coal, stone or timber tended to be overloaded, because they did not get damaged in transit on poor roads. The problem with transporting coal by rail was a shortage of rolling stock, as well as loading equipment.
Mr Mohan said the DoT was looking into the question of what should not be carried by road, and Eskom and Transnet were currently discussing a “back to rail” strategy. However, Transnet had downsized significantly since the 1970s, and major reinvestment would be needed to build capacity in the short term.
Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) referred to the Siyatentela programme in Mpumalanga. As far as she was aware, this was a group of women working on their own, repairing gravel roads. She wanted to know if they were receiving any training. Furthermore, she enquired if there were any partnerships involving the private sector in road maintenance.
Mr Rapuleng Ramatsoele, Director: EPWP Provincial Roads, DoT, said the Siyatentela programme involved households looking after sections of roads, for which training was given, as different skills were required.
Mr Themba Nkosi, Acting Director: Roads & Rail, DoT, said partnerships involving the private sector and State-Owned Enterprises, such as Eskom, were under discussion. The Department was also looking to get funds from coal hauliers to contribute to road maintenance.
Mr P Poho (COPE) asked why the Department was facing challenges in making investment decisions.
Mr M de Freitas (DA) asked what efforts were being made by the DoT to obtain data on the condition of roads, and what the reason was for local authorities not doing regular maintenance inspections.
Mr Kannemeyer said more than 100 municipalities did not collect data because they had no technically-qualified personnel who could use the data. The problem was a lack of technical skills.
Mr Nkosi said the DoT was working through SANRAL to collect data, and the level of collection was improving.
The Chairperson said that as far back as February 1995, the then-President Mandela had referred to the uneven levels of development in the country, and had said that inadequate services in poor communities would require maintenance. This had been ignored by the Department, which was apparently only reacting now that maintenance had become a major problem. The Department was using budgetary expenditure as a yardstick, when it should be relating its expenditure to social and economic development. The budget should address what needed to be achieved.
The Chairperson asked if the job creation referred to sustainable jobs or just piece-work jobs. There was little reference to training in the plan, yet maintenance problems would only be solved by skills training. Consideration also needed to be given to career pathing, where skills training could lead from basic pothole repair to road construction.
Mr Nkosi, referring to job sustainability, said the DoT was required to replicate the Zibambele system operating in KwaZulu Natal, where households were contracted to maintain sections of rural roads. These contracts were for a one-year period, were renewable, and were therefore considered sustainable.
Mr Farrow said R6 billion had been allocated from the General Fuel Levy specifically for use by municipalities on roads and transport. However, this amount was not reflected in the Department’s plan. This implied that “the left hand was not talking to the right”. This was fiscal policy. If this, and other sources of funding, was not being picked up by the DoT, there was a problem.
The Chairperson said the 140 000 km of unproclaimed roads were akin to “illegitimate children” and asked what the Department was doing about them.
Mr Nkosi said the DoT was in the process of identifying and defining these roads.
Mr Kannemeyer said budget constraints were a major concern. An amount of R75 billion was the identified requirement, yet the amount allocated was only one-third of this. National Treasury was being lobbied in an attempt to address the problem. Funding would also be a key agenda item at the May meeting.
He said another problem was that a major portion of the allocation for roads was being used to replace the regional services levy, and these funds were now not necessarily being spent on roads.
Mr Mohan said it was clear that deeper monitoring was needed to measure the benefits of the DoT’s activities.
Mr de Freitas asked the Department to get “real facts” on the number of jobs created by its various projects, and suggested that the subject of toll roads should be discussed at a future meeting.
Ugu District Municipality briefing: “Sharing the Ugu Experience in Fixing Potholes”
Mr Mduduzi Mnyandu, Deputy Municipal Manager, Ugu District Municipality, described how a community-oriented approach had been used to address the serious problem of potholes in this district, which was situated south of Durban.
The municipality had been heavily criticised by the community, ratepayers, business and the media for not providing a permanent solution to the potholes situation. The chip and spray method was cheap but did not last, while the effective hot asphalt method was expensive, relied heavily on machinery, and could be used only close to its source of materials.
In May 2008, the Ugu District Municipality was introduced to a new technology and method of fixing potholes that provided several important advantages. It was based on a cold mix, making it possible to stockpile the material and budget appropriately in advance. It also made a fixed pothole last longer, for about four to five years. It was labour intensive, with minimum machinery, and it provided economic generation potential in the form of a factory, and youth entrepreneurial opportunity.
Community structures were used for recruitment, and training was carried out in such areas as technology, safety, productivity and cost effectiveness. A central product manufacturing site was chosen. This was a disused municipal site, not a new building. Local component suppliers were contracted, and training on product mixing, bagging and distribution was carried out. This pilot project resulted in 65 local people being gainfully employed, and over 5 250 potholes were repaired in three months.
Mr Farrow complimented Mr Mnyandu on the Ugu initiative, and said that as there were numerous cold mix alternatives available, a study should be carried out so that the best could be identified.
Mr de Freitas asked if a cost comparison had been conducted.
Mr Mnyandu said a cost comparison indicated that cold mix was slightly more expensive that hot asphalt, but was more sustainable in the long run.
Dr Luthuli said the Ugu pilot model should be adopted throughout the country. The current roads maintenance situation was “a disaster”, and was causing unrest among disgruntled communities. Poor repairs needed to be continually patched up, adding to maintenance costs.
Ms Ngwenya-Mabila asked about the balance between the use of labour and machinery in the repair of potholes.
Mr Mnyandu said reliance on machinery had been a problem in the past, but the equipment used in the Ugu model comprised pick, shovel, broom, and wheelbarrow – with only an impactor as machinery. He described the project as labour intensive.
The Chairperson questioned the poverty-alleviation aspect of the project. If participants were removed from the indigent register, this would provide a measure. It was essential to recruit people who needed help, rather than those who found favour with certain people. This would relieve the burden on the social grant register.
Mr Mnyandu conceded that no participants had been taken off the indigent register, as they had been involved for only a limited period in the pilot project. However, from a youth development point of view, 53 had been employed in the pilot project, of whom 39 were male and 14 female. A further 12 people were employed in the manufacturing facility, of whom ten were youths.
Mr Kannemeyer said the repair of potholes was a matter of treating the symptoms, not the cause. He pointed out that the real cause of the problem was collection of water, either surface or sub-surface, and until the cause was addressed, there would always be potholes. Preventative maintenance was essential for the long term, as the cost of repairing a pothole was in the region of R1 000 a square meter, while the cost of sealing a road surface was R80 to R90 a square meter.
The Chairperson commented that when engaging with the DoT, the Committee was trying to develop a holistic model that addressed various social and economic problems, and therefore needed to know in detail the impact that transport-related service delivery was having in the community. This would assist the Committee to debate issues fully in the House, and report not only on progress, but also on how social and economic problems were being addressed through transport service delivery.
The meeting was adjourned.
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