SANRAL’s mega upgrade of the N3 begins

Work on improvements to KZN’s Gateway to Africa planned to take 8-10 years.

There are various work packages along the corridor with each package taking between 36 to 42 months to complete.

The South African National Roads Agency (SOC) Limited (SANRAL) has started work on the mega project to upgrade the N3 Corridor between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

The upgrades to the 84km freeway, known as KwaZulu-Natal’s Gateway to Africa, will be implemented in phases over the next eight to 10 years. This was announced by SANRAL at a briefing to stakeholders to showcase SANRAL’s current activities in KwaZulu-Natal.

SANRAL’s Eastern Region design and construction manager, Ravi Ronny, said the N3 Corridor is essential if one of government’s strategic integrated projects linking the port of Durban with Gauteng, South Africa’s economic heartland, is to succeed.

Critical sections to be upgraded by 2023

The project has been given priority status and construction on the critical sections will commence within the next two years.

Phase 1, which includes the critical sections between Cato Ridge and Pietermaritzburg, the Key Ridge realignment and the EB Cloete to Paradise Valley section will be upgraded over the next five years and completed by 2023.

Detailed designs are being drawn up for the reconstruction of the N3 between Durban and Cedara at an estimated cost of between R22-R24-billion.

The plans include a ring road around Pietermaritzburg to avoid the notorious Town Hill section of the N3.

There are various work packages along the corridor with each package taking between 36 to 42 months to complete.

“Environmental impact assessments are also being commissioned, while routes are being plotted to increase the capacity and safety of the freeway, which will have up to four and even five lanes in each direction over certain sections,” said Ronny.

New routes being investigated to ease congestion on Town Hill

Key Ridge and Town Hill will see a major realignment of the highway, where the steep grades cause major traffic congestion, especially when heavy-duty vehicles are on the road.

The expansion of the roadway in the current alignment is not an option due to the close proximity of residential and commercial properties and the extended period over which lane or road closures would be required.

Improvements are needed because it is estimated that users of the N3 will continue to suffer losses of nearly R800-million per annum due to accidents and time delays. Around R775-million of that can be attributed to time delays and between R250 000-R295 000 per hour to accidents and road closures.

Twelve proposed new routes are being investigated to eliminate the problems at Town Hill. A 14km ring road around Pietermaritzburg and north-east of the current N3 alignment is being considered as one of the more favoured routes.

Seamless flow of freight important

According to Ronny, the N3 carries in excess of 40 000 vehicles per day around Pietermaritzburg and consists of a mix of urban commuter traffic, long-distance traffic and very heavy vehicles. On some sections, the number of heavy vehicles can be over 25% of the daily total.

“In excess of 40 million tons of freight are carried on the N3 corridor per annum, with approximately 9 000 heavy vehicles using the national road per day. Durban is by far South Africa’s busiest port with over 80% of goods moving along this corridor by road,” said Ronny.

“Therefore, the need to consider the best economic solutions to ensure the seamless flow of freight is very important to this corridor.”

Ronny added that any blockage on the N3 causing its closure was tantamount to a national crisis.

A new road network for KZN

KwaZulu-Natal’s road network is undergoing major refurbishment and expansion, with the rewards being safer motoring, time-saving, improved business links, better-connected towns and cities, jobs creation, empowerment, poverty alleviation and unlocking land for new homes and businesses.

A new interchange at Kwabhoboza has been completed at a cost of R242 million and will improve the safety of pedestrians and motorists.

The newly-opened traffic control centre at Eteza will curb overloading on the N2 north, thereby extending the life of the pavement and improving safety.

The major upgrade to the iconic Mount Edgecombe interchange, at a cost of R1.1-billion, is fast nearing completion and should be finished within weeks.

The R950-million upgrade of National Route N2 between the Mtunzini Toll plaza and the Empangeni interchange is underway. This will see this 34km single carriageway upgraded to a four-lane dual carriageway freeway.

The elimination of curves at Umhlali River Bridge and Umvoti River Bridge on the N2 North will reduce accidents and improve road safety.

In order to fast track construction of a major interchange on the N3 at Hammarsdale between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, SANRAL entered into a partnership with eThekwini Municipality to share the R276-million cost of the project.

“The new N2 on the KwaZulu-Natal side will join with the N2 Wild Coast Highway currently under construction in the Eastern Cape. Once completed, the highway will be approximately 85km shorter than the current N2 alignment from Mthatha to Port Shepstone and will reduce travel time by about three hours,” said Ronny.

“There are scores of other projects in KwaZulu-Natal running into tens of millions of Rands involving periodic maintenance on various stretches of the province’s roads.”