By Tony Carnie
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize has re-iterated his opposition to the proposed N2 Wild Coast toll road, saying more tollgates in the Durban area will cause further financial hardship for commuters and slow down economic growth.
Reacting to the news that the proposed N2 toll had been given another green light after an environmental impact assessment (EIA) process, Mkhize said the KZN Provincial government had always been opposed to the proposed Wild Coast toll road, especially the proposed toll gate at Isipingo.
The Premier noted that there was general agreement in the legislature that all political parties should speak with one voice in opposing this tollgate and he promised to make an official announcement later this week on how the legislature would respond to the latest EIA recommendation.
The Democratic Alliance also voiced its alarm about the "pig-headed" stance of the Sanral road agency in pursuing the plan in the face of strong opposition in several quarters in KZN.
"We call on the Premier to take a determined stance against the project," said Radley Keys, the party's provincial spokesman on transport.
"Once again Sanral is displaying a pig-headed obsession with this project, proving it will stop at nothing to fleece the motoring public of our province."
He suggested the plan would have "a devastating impact" on KZN businesses and residents forced to make use of the road on a frequent basis.
"Given the current economic climate, along with the looming 25-percent electricity tariff hike and the 25c per litre increased tax on fuel that will come into effect in April, the building of yet another toll plaza at Amanzimtoti/Isipingo may well be the final nail in the coffin for business and industry in KZN."
He argued that the proposed mainline toll plaza at Isipingo was designed to make eThekwini motorists subsidise the construction of the N2 through the former Transkei.
"Clearly the motoring public of eThekwini, and KZN motorists at large, are viewed as cash cows to fund road construction in other provinces. There are a staggering number of toll plaza's in our province - the fact that the 'user pays' principle has not been applied to the proposed N2 Toll - with no plaza's planned for the entire stretch through the Eastern Cape, speaks volumes."
In fact, the proposed Wild Coast toll road makes provision for 26 new toll payment points spread through both KZN and the Eastern Cape.
These include four new mainline plazas and one ramp plaza in the Eastern Cape. In KZN, the existing Oribi mainline plaza and three ramp plazas would be supplemented by two new mainline plazas at Isipingo and Park Rynie and seven new ramp plazas at Pennington, Park Rynie, Scottburgh, Umkomaas, Adams Road, Moss Kolnick interchange and Joyner Road.
Although the scale of toll fees is specifically excluded from the EIA process, illustrative fees provided by Sanral suggest that the most expensive toll along the route would be between Southbroom in KZN and Ntafufu in the E Cape.
Based on 2006 price projections, the toll for this 121 km-long section could be around R114 for cars.
Along the busiest stretch (Isipingo/Amanzimtoti) Sanral has projected car toll fees of between R8 - R5, with further new tolls of between R29 - R18 at Park Rynie and another R24 - R15 at Oribi.
These toll ranges appear to be outdated, however, as the current Oribi fee is already R18, and by the time the entire Durban-East London route is completed, prices are expected to have risen further.
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But Sanral chief Nazir Alli says he is confident that a solution can be found to allay the concerns of the KZN provincial government and and the city of eThekwini.
Alli has welcomed the EIA recommendation and said Sanral would engage the province and the city once a final decision had been made by the Department of Environment.
But Sanral's Wild Coast toll road project manager Ron Harmse has has cautioned that there is still "quite a long road ahead".
Even if the department authorised the project, there was a mandatory 30-day appeal period and he anticipated that there would be several appeals, particularly from South Coast residents.
Harmse said he was reluctant to speculate on when construction might begin as appeals would have to be considered by Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica.
Thereafter, Sanral would have to begin a land acquisition process along some parts of the greenfields route.
A tender process to build and operate the route could take in the region of six months, followed by a further 14 - 24 month process to adjudicate tenders.
Thereafter, the successful concessionaire would also have to complete final route designs.