Finally, you can follow the red brick road

2013-12-19 00:00

THE long-awaited, R18 million red brick road at the heart of Pietermaritzburg was finally opened last night, triggering sharp emotions from businesses and opposition parties.

Ending eight months of stalled traffic, depressed CBD business, and repeated delays, the 200-metre stretch of Chief Albert Luthuli Street — now featuring a red brick surface, landscaped sidewalks, a widened boulevard and new street lights — was re-opened by local government MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube at an elaborate ribbon-cutting event at the city hall.

Guests were issued with candles and emergency vehicles blared their sirens to mark the event. Mayor Chris Ndlela first apologised for the delays, before declaring excitedly, “I believe I can fly!”

Dube said the upgrade represented a permanent boost for tourism, motorists, pedestrians and businesses.

Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said, “We are very excited for businesses, particularly in town, because of the access for them.”

But at least one company trapped within the development zone has had to take loans to survive the reduced business, while businessman Moosa Mohamed Ahmed said, “I don’t trust them any more. I am looking for a place to buy in Durban cause I have totally lost hope in the city.”

The road upgrade was initially budgeted to cost R13 million. This amount was subsequently adjusted to R17,9 million for the first phase of the long-term Pietermaritzburg Urban Renewal Programme, which is scheduled to run until 2016 with the aim of beautifying the city.

The project was scheduled to be finished by July, then the municipality announced a new date for construction to be at the end of September. This did not materialise either, causing huge frustrations for both businesses and residents.

Msunduzi municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said residents would find the new road worth the wait. “It forms the nucleus of the PMB Urban Renewal Programme, which will be rolled throughout the city.”

But Ahmed said, “Business is very important and this has been a ridiculous exercise.”

By late afternoon yesterday, Adrian van der Zandt, co-owner of Pizza Perfect on Chief Albert Luthuli, was still not convinced the street was opening, following the delays. But he later said, “I am extremely happy that finally they are opening the road after eight months of delays. We have to ask ourselves if the upgrade was worth the losses that we incurred, but I am glad it’s over.”

Rob Boyd, manager of the Tatham Art Gallery Cafe, found in the same precinct, said, “We are ecstatic. It looks great and we have always been positive about the project but it’s just that it seemed to take a long time to open.”

DA caucus leader Bill Lambert said: “It’s not before time. Let’s hope its been worth waiting for.”

IFP caucus leader, Dolo Zondi said they had mixed feelings because this was supposed to be a three-month project. “If our city engineers had done their calculations the project would have been long opened,” he said.

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