N6 upgrade in Smithfield creates sustainable empowerment

“Thanking SANRAL for excellent service delivery in the road construction sector is like thanking the fish for swimming.” These were the words of Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula when he visited a SANRAL upgrade project on the N6 in Smithfield, Free State and lauded the agency for its engineering excellence.

The N6 provides the gateway to the Eastern Cape and is crucial for the economic development of the province as it links to the Free State. It also provides a vital cog in the commercial transportation of goods and services between Lesotho and Coega.

In accordance with SANRAL’s transformation objectives, the labour force was sourced locally from the Xhariep District Municipality and to date the project has generated 390 jobs to the value of R 28 073 197, given economic opportunities to 30 sub-contractors, at a cost of R 88 501 454 and provided training to all local labour.

“I am highly pleased to see that the people of this district, are in fact the ones who benefited from this project. We should not bring people from Johannesburg to benefit here. Empowerment is for the locals and those who have been empowered, must be seen in the community and should be supported to grow and develop to take on bigger opportunities and create work for others to benefit,” said Mbalula.

This popular route, particularly between Smithfield and Rouxville, has in the past posed significant road safety challenges to the scores of motorists who travel this way every day. In response to these challenges, SANRAL, appointed WBHO to upgrade the 34-kilometre stretch of road.

The upgrade entails widening and partial vertical realignment of the existing road, which fundamentally improves safety aspects.  One of the key results of the vertical realignment will be fewer blind rises on the route and a longer field of vision for motorists.  It will furthermore reduce the number of climbing lanes necessary to accommodate overtaking of slower traffic.  The road is also being widened to 12,4 metres, including a generous shoulder on each side.

“Most of the road is being constructed in half-widths, where the traffic is moved onto a widened shoulder on the one side of the road while work continues on the other side,” explained Jason Lowe, SANRAL Eastern Region Project Manager.

He further explains that the main bridge on the route is over the Caledon River, which was an extremely narrow bridge without shoulders. This has been widened on the left and right to accommodate the new road width.  Closer to the Rouxville side, the smaller bridge over the Eldorado River was totally demolished and rebuilt to larger dimensions.

“Both Rouxville and Smithfield have historic town planning challenges where the majority of the population has been positioned on the opposite side of the road to the town’s amenities, such as schools and shops. As a result, numerous pedestrians cross the N6 daily. In prioritising road safety for all road users, but particularly pedestrians in this case, we are reducing the speed limit, building sidewalks on both sides of the road, creating safe crossing points and installing streetlights. These measures will ensure that motorists are more aware of the pedestrians and will enforce reduced travelling speeds,” said Dumisani Nkabinde, Regional Manager for SANRAL’s Eastern Region.

While the project is not yet fully completed, the minister was pleased with the progress and the overall opportunities that were created for stakeholders to access economic development opportunities.

“This is exactly what President Ramaphosa was referring to when he spoke about infrastructure development as the flywheel that will unlock economic revival in a post COVID-19 South Africa. We are not waiting for that to happen. It has already begun, right on our doorstep with the N6 linking the provinces for increased economic development,” concluded Mbalula.