Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has hailed ongoing road improvements to the N4 in Mpumalanga worth R1.5-billion as proof of government’s commitment to working with the private sector in expanding and building critical infrastructure that will contribute to the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.
Minister Mbalula today (Thursday) conducted a site visit to inspect the road rehabilitation and upgrade of sections of the 570km N4 Toll Route, including the Belfast-Machadodorp section of the N4, and will on Friday conduct a similar inspection of the New Karino Interchange project at Mbombela.
Minister Mbalula said the N4 Toll Route is a catalyst for trade and investment between South Africa’s land-locked provinces, Gauteng, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga, as well as neighbouring countries. “South Africa’s road infrastructure has a critical role to play in the economy and continuous maintenance and upgrades are crucial for the longevity and preservation of our road network asset. The Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan unveiled by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic places significant emphasis on infrastructure development to enable economic growth. The improvements to the N4, which started before the onset of COVID-19, should make contribution towards that plan, whilst creating 2,200 jobs and empowering SMMEs in the process.
“It is well-known that South Africa’s road infrastructure is world-class, reliable, convenient and safe. We, the South African Government, have clearly stated our intention to unlock and amplify public private partnerships to ensure continuous efforts are made to bolster critical infrastructure such as roads. Our site visits here in Mpumalanga are endorsement of these partnerships. The South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) and Trans African Concessions (TRAC) have had a long-standing partnership to maintain and improve the quality of the N4 in this part of the world, and we are happy with the work they are doing.”
SANRAL CEO Skhumbuzo Macozoma said: “SANRAL has the responsibility to preserve, improve and develop the national road network which is critical to South Africa’s economic growth prospects. These projects in Mpumalanga are proof that we are approaching this task effectively and efficiently. We are also pleased that our partner TRAC understands our transformation imperatives and is using projects such as these to sub-contract CIDB Grades 1 to 4 SMME companies. At least 168 SMMEs have been contracted to work on the N4 projects currently underway, amounting to R380-million worth of sub-contracts.”
TRAC CEO Alex van Niekerk said TRAC’s N4 concession is a successful venture for the private sector and government alike. “The project has seen a 214% increase in total traffic on the South African side from 2001 to 2019. Class-4 heavy-vehicle traffic increased by more than 420%, while in Mozambique, Class-4 heavy-vehicle traffic increased by 1 743% as the road opened access to the Maputo port. The economic impact of this improved tool route is there for all to see.”
BACKGROUND TO THE N4 TOLL ROAD UPGRADES
- The Belfast-Machado road rehabilitation and upgrade: The extensive upgrade between Belfast and Machadodorp on the N4 Toll Route is progressing well and is 26% complete. The R400-million project, which was awarded to WBHO Construction in 2019, is expected to take three years to complete. Roadworks will include the rehabilitation of 30km of Section 5B which will also be upgraded to a four-lane carriageway. The initiative will not only benefit road users but the local community too. In line with an MOU signed between the eMakhazeni Local Municipality, Trans African Concessions (TRAC), SANRAL and WBHO/Motheo JV, 21 local small, medium and micro-enterprises have already been appointed with approximately 300 jobs created.
The upgrade from a two-lane road to a four-lane road will benefit road users in this region in terms of ease of travel, convenience and road safety. The improved vertical alignments, consolidation of farm accesses and additional capacity as part of the widening not only makes the N4 safer but also improves the mobility resulting in reduced travel times and travel costs. The construction of the Machadodorp (eNtokozweni) interchange is also aimed at improved road safety, but still provides convenient access to the town. Local communities are also directly benefitting from the job creation during construction.
On the environmental front, the project is in the upper catchment area of the Elands River with five tributaries/wetlands requiring bridge upgrades and thus the project triggered various environmental permitting requirements. As part of the upgrade additional land has been acquired for the road reserve to accommodate the road widening and future road upgrade requirements. A full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted during the planning phase guiding the project towards environmental sustainability during the implementation.
Prior to construction a search and rescue of protected plants was done with the assistance of an ecologist transplanting the plants in suitable habitats. The Environmental Authorisation also requires an external audit to be conducted quarterly during construction. Audit reports are submitted to the Environmental Authorities. Internal TRAC environmental inspections are also conducted regularly to monitor environmental compliance. A wetland specialist has also been appointed to assist with recommendations for the rehabilitation of the affected wetlands.
- The New Karino Interchange: This Mbombela-based project, valued at R390-million, is 50% complete. Managed by Raubex, the project will see the existing intersection transformed into a grade-separated interchange, with on- and off-ramps and a bridge that will separate cross-traffic from through-traffic and thus ease traffic flow at this extremely busy intersection.
This project has brought positive economic benefits for the Mbombela communities, particularly for SMMEs. Many SMME companies continue to benefit by learning new skills and growing their companies. For skills and transformation initiatives, Raubex has introduced LIT (Labour-Intensive Training) to capacitate the locals by giving them practical training. There are over 50 emerging contractors that have benefitted from the project and there are 275 employees on site. Improved and safer access roads with reduced travel times will also stimulate further economic growth through this project, particularly in the area north of the Crocodile River.
The upgrading of the Karino intersection to an interchange is deemed a next phase as part of the original Nelspruit Northern Ring Road project completed during 2010. Environmental approvals were obtained prior to the construction starting on the Ring Road. Nelspruit Botanical Gardens and the Barberton Nature Reserve were recipients of the protected plants removed as part of a search and rescue conducted by an experienced ecologist. Several indigenous trees were saved and transplanted affected by the construction.
The contractor has minimised negative environmental impact on the project as well as disturbance of the natural environment by barricading no-go areas to be left untouched inside the interchange loop areas. As part of the environmental authorisation, quarterly external environmental audits are conducted as well as frequent water quality testing at bridge sites to ensure that all environmental requirements are met. This is also supplemented by additional regular TRAC internal inspections on the project. Alien plant/tree eradication within the newly acquired land areas will also be done.
- Emalahleni–Middelburg Road Pavement Rehabilitation and Upgrade: The rehabilitation project between the O.R. Tambo and Van Dyksdrift interchanges in the Highveld region is 48% complete, with a completion date of March 2022. The R380-million project, being constructed by Raubex Construction, includes the removal and replacement of concrete slabs from the originally constructed concrete surfaced road, overlaying the entire section with asphalt, and the construction of an additional seven kilometres of passing lanes.
The project has created employment opportunities for locals. There are over 280 workers on site to date, sourced from eMalahleni and Steve Tshwete local municipalities. The 58 SMMEs that are benefitting on this project, to date, have been sourced locally. The communities of eMalahleni and Steve Tshwete have been given an opportunity to supply machinery equipment/plant and provide ancillary services such as v-drains, stone pitching, gabions, guardrails, fencing, road marking and road signs. Other services including security, traffic accommodation and drainage to name a few. Subcontractors have been appointed, giving them an opportunity to be empowered and for the relevant technical skills to be transferred to them.
There has been minimal negative environmental impact on this project. Internal environmental monitoring is continuously conducted to ensure that all environmental principles and compliance with TRAC’s generic environmental management plan (EMP) takes place. For example, removed concrete pavement blocks are crushed and reused in the pavement layers.
- Kaapmuiden to Kaalrug Rehabilitation and Upgrade: This 15.5km road project includes upgrading the carriageway to four lanes and the rehabilitation of the existing road. The project is 70% complete and expected to be concluded in August 2021. The project is worth R340 million and is situated in the rural outskirts of Mpumalanga bordered by Mozambique, where unemployment is high. Through this project, 213 local community members and 51 SMMEs between CIBD Grades 1 and 4 have been employed.
The key motivation with appointing SMMEs of these Grades is to transfer skills and develop the lower graded companies to a higher grading, while also preparing them for the next phases of the project. The contractor has also paired specialised companies with local SMMEs to give them the platform to understand how the construction industry operates. The contractor has also added a few courses that focus on occupational health, safety, and environmental training as part of skills development. This has benefitted unemployed youth from Nkomazi Local Municipally. Moreover, the upgrade from a two-lane road to a four-lane road will benefit road users in this region in terms of ease of travel, convenience, and road safety. The consolidation of farm accesses and additional capacity as part of the widening not only makes the N4 safer but also improves the mobility resulting in reduced travel times and travel costs.
A basic environmental assessment has been conducted and an Environmental Authorisation has been obtained. Protected trees have been saved as far as practically possible. External environmental audits and frequent water testing are conducted, and reports are submitted to the environmental authorities supplemented by regular TRAC internal environmental audits.