National road network at core of local growth

The national road network has been growing over the years, and this improves connectivity between cities and regional hubs.

The national road network has been steadily growing over the years, improving connectivity between cities and regional hubs. It is via the road networks that the majority of South African citizens commute and conduct business.

It is important to unlock the value of South Africa’s road network and build partnerships with communities along these routes so they can benefit economically from their local roads.

“At a time when the world is undergoing rapid changes brought on by new – and sometimes disruptive – technologies, it is important for 21st century organisations such as SANRAL to embrace change and continuously adapt strategies to remain at the leading edge of trends in the management of vital economic infrastructure,” said the general manager of communications at The South African National Road Agency (SOC) Limited (SANRAL), Vusi Mona.

The national road network has been steadily growing over the years, improving connectivity between cities and regional hubs. It is via the road networks that the majority of South African citizens commute and conduct business.

Against this background, it is critically important to unlock the value of South Africa’s road network and to build partnerships with communities so that these communities can become active participants in the entire process of delivery, which includes planning, construction, as well as the supply of services and material to long-term maintenance of local roads, Mona said.

Embracing innovation

An important aspect of an ever-changing world is the challenge brought about by rapidly evolving Smart Road Technologies and global innovation.

“Innovating to create a better and safer road network can never operate in isolation, and SANRAL has always been acutely aware of, and committed to, impacting positively on the lives of the communities in which it operates, across the national road network,” Mona said.

He was particularly excited that innovation funding had been prioritised through the establishment of the Western Cape-based Technical Innovation Hub (TIH) during the 2016/17 financial year.

The TIH, he said, could be likened to a think tank of young intellectuals, who were mentored by senior professional engineers, and who could be inspired by the possibilities that exist when technology is harnessed to improve South African lives and promote progressive development in transport.

Simply creating road infrastructure was not enough when citizens did not always have the ability and resources to access developmental opportunities created by an improved road network, he said.

To this end, SANRAL’s Community Development Programme was a way of strengthening communities, particularly those who were adjacent to the national road network.

The programme addressed both concrete and intangible human needs, Mona added.

“SANRAL implements a detailed plan when working with community structures on all of its projects, with the goal of providing improved access and mobility in a locally sensitive manner, and offering opportunities for economic empowerment.”

Future focus

With SANRAL having had two decades as the custodian of the South African road network, Mona is pleased to note that the length of the network has tripled from 6 700 km in 1998 to the current 22 000 km – with an estimated net asset value of more than R250-billion.

“We stand at the start of a global new era in transportation technology, where concepts such as smart roads, intelligent infrastructure and driverless vehicles have moved from the realms of science fiction to a future that is just down the road.”

SANRAL’s medium-term strategy, named Horizon 2030, aligns with the timeframes set in the National Development Plan.

Horizon 2030 is a proactive response to deliver on SANRAL’s vision of a national transport system that builds South Africa through better roads, Mona said.

Two examples of the agency’s ongoing investment in the long-term future of South Africa’s road network can be seen in the R3.2-billion invested in the upgrade of the N7 corridor and the construction of two mega bridges as part of SANRAL’s N2 Wild Coast road project in the Eastern Cape.

“We are looking forward to continuing to engage with other role players in the construction and engineering sectors, with our sister agencies and road authorities, with provincial and national departments, and with the experts in our various engineering disciplines, as we strive to build South Africa through better roads,” he added.

World Road Association Conference

In October 2017, SANRAL hosted engineers from several countries at the biannual World Road Association (PIARC) conference on Road Tunnel Operations in Low and Medium-Income Countries. The event was formally opened by SANRAL CEO Skhumbuzo Macozoma.

“The biannual seminar was an opportunity to draw on knowledge and technical leadership from over 30 governments globally, and was, in itself, a huge benefit to growing the knowledge economy within South Africa,” said Mona.

During the conference, engineering professionals engaged with thought-provoking presentations on new technological breakthroughs in civil engineering around safe design and operations of road tunnels.

The South African team led with a presentation on the Huguenot Tunnel, a major transportation link between the Western Cape coast and the interior. The presentation looked at operations, maintenance and planned upgrades.

Author

Ray Maota

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