Winelands Toll Trap

The proposed tolling of the N1 and N2 in the Winelands has raised the ire of most residents and local government entities in the province. The City of Cape Town and SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency) seem set for another court showdown. The demand for clarity on toll-costs and socio-economic implications is not only fair; all citizens in this province should demand this information, as this project could have significant impacts on the economy and thus, the prosperity of affected areas in the Western Cape, particularly the eastern Winelands and Overberg.

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

PROJECT SCOPE: SANRAL has declared the N1 as a toll-road from Old Oak Interchange to Sandhills in the Hex River Valley and the N2 from the R300 Interchange to Bot River. Three tolls along each route are proposed. On the N1, these proposed toll plazas are at Joostenbergvlakte, the existing Huguenot Toll Plaza (where fees are proposed to be significantly raised) and Glen Heatlie between Worcester and De Doorns. On the N2, one plaza is proposed near Khayelitsha, one at Sir Lowry’s Pass and the other, at Bot River. Don’t think you’ll be able to get around the tolls, where viable alternative routes exists, like the R101 Du Toitskloof Pass, SANRAL will construct ramp-toll plazas on these exits.

They are planning some significant upgrades to the roads, so why is the Western Cape populace vexed? The anger in Gauteng over the controversial eTolls is still boiling over, yet SANRAL sees fit to set another pot to high-heat in our province. The Auditor General reports on countless billions being misspent per annum, yet SANRAL, a government parastatal, pleads poverty. Furthermore, the stark contrast in this province, where most roads are (Provincial Government – Western Cape) PGWC maintained, from the fiscus. Our infrastructure is generally well maintained, unlike numerous other provinces. The N1 and N2 westwards form the aforementioned points, where SANRAL jurisdiction ends, is in a better condition. In recent years these PGWC sections have seen resurfacing, highway lighting and the significant upgrading of numerous interchanges take place. Thus the resident logically asks, “Why can the PGWC maintain and upgrade our roads with our tax-money whilst SANRAL is unable to do so?”

Admittedly, there are bottlenecks in our infrastructure in these proposed tolled-areas: one being the N1 at the Huguenot Tunnel and two, the N2 through Somerset West and Strand. I am not against greenfields tolling. Thus, the Helderberg Bypass could be constructed without entrapping the Elgin Valley. The opening of the second Huguenot Tunnel (already bored – requires lining and equipping) is not up for debate. This sector is already user-pays and has been so since 1989; road improvements go without saying.

The economic impacts could be serious indeed. SANRAL commissions studies that investigate the economic impact of the “do nothing” or “if they toll” scenarios. This creates a bias in the analysis. No roads agency or governmental entity is entitled to “do nothing” to the infrastructure, as population, road-usage and by inference, revenue increases. Even under this potentially biased analysis, undertaken by UCT Graduate Business School, it is admitted that communities north-east of Paarl would see little cost-benefit in the short to medium-term, as traffic volumes are too light. Even under their analysis, agriculture could experience hardship, the lifeblood of these communities. Even under their analysis, the Hex River and Elgin Valleys would become entrapped to tolls, cut off from their service centre towns, major markets and neighbouring engines of economic growth. Even with this information, SANRAL has to date, made no attempt to move toll plazas to locations that would not hold these communities hostage. They have admittedly, offered Hex River Valley residents the option of toll discounts.

Furthermore, rural tolling is an even crueler pursuit, as public-transit or non-motorised transit options simply don’t exist and probably never will. This seriously disadvantages rural communities and the workforce, such as those under FairTrade’s umbrella. It restricts their freedom of movement and access to economic and service centres in the province, as mobility is made unaffordable.

Grabouw and De Doorns, communities plagued by recent civil upheaval, will be the worst affected. Whatever the reason for the recent unrest, the obvious catalysts remain lack of employment and poor local economic conditions. With spiraling fuel and transport costs, additional tolling has only one outcome for these communities on an economic and social knife-edge. Communities like Rawsonville, where we are located, have had a perennial struggle to attract tourist numbers. The toll tunnel has acted as a psychological barrier for years. Additional toll gates and fees on these routes will only exacerbate the issue. Tourists and Capetonian wine-drinkers will not only think twice before venturing out along the N1 and N2, they’ll think thrice.

Where possible, tourists and residents alike will look to the free-to-use provincial roads to escape the toll; this will severely burden these secondary routes and the provincial transport department. For areas such as the Breede River Valley, no viable alternative exists and businesses and communities will be kept entrapped and tourists, out. For a wine company constantly aiming for value-for-money, this could seriously impact on our business model of bringing products to the consumer at affordable prices.

SANRAL’s public participation process has lacked reach and transparency, where the bare legal minimum is done in consulting with communities. There’s a universal awareness of the intense public opposition to the inequitable user-pays policy. We already pay through hefty fuel-levies which rise annually, along with the spiraling cost of fuel in South Africa. Ring-fence the levy, make them provincially imposed according to local need. It’s the cheapest and most equitable form of roads funding there is, with the least risk of graft or corruption.

My suggestion if SANRAL is unable to fund their infrastructure: cede control of the roads west of Bloukrans River and Three Sisters to the Provincial Government of the Western Cape. Allow the national treasury to grant them that equitable share of SANRAL’s allocated budget for these road-sectors. It is clear our provincial administration is able to maintain the infrastructure under their jurisdiction.

By: Andres de Wet (DuToitskloof Online Content Manager)

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