Highway proposed through Curry’s Post

2014-03-01 00:00

LOCALS are rallying to oppose a 12-lane multi-billion rand highway that will bypass Pietermaritzburg and run through an ecologically sensitive area steeped in history.

Aggrieved residents of Curry’s Post have rallied together to oppose the highway, which is at a pre-feasibility stage.

But on the flipside, supporters say, the highway will stimulate economic growth throughout the province and will make travelling between Johannesburg and Durban quicker and less congested.

And Pietermaritzburg traffic volumes will be dramatically reduced as heavy trucks are diverted onto the new road.

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) project will see new roads linking Camperdown to Lions River.

In fact, the Pietermaritzburg N3 re-routing is part of a plan for the entire Durban-Free State-Gauteng Corridor to eliminate bottlenecks at Key Ridge (between Cato Ridge and Durban), Townhill (within Pietermaritzburg) and Van Reenen’s Pass — all notorious accident and congestion points.

Currently, there are two new alternative routes with various options being considered varying in length up to 86 km passing either on the west of the provincial capital at Edendale or east at Curry’s Post.

Initially expected to be a double lane carriageway, Sanral has said that they want the road to be built with sufficient road reserve to accommodate six lanes in each direction.

Other options include a tunnel bypassing Townhill in Pietermaritzburg and a combination of interchanges.

But the proposals, which are still at pre-feasibility stage despite Sanral calling for environmental consultants as far back as May 2012, could destroy the “sense of place” associated with Curry’s Post, described by locals as the “best place on Earth”.

Sarah Allen, chairperson of the Curry’s Post Conservancy, said if the new proposals are accepted it could decimate the area’s community and have a major impact on biodiversity.

“The environmental damage would be significant and it will alter the sense of place. Land will be lost for agriculture and there will be a significant impact on property prices. The fact that freight rail needs to be enhanced is part of our argument. We should be taking trucks off the road — not putting more on,” said Allen.

In a circular sent to conservancy members last week a decision was taken to oppose the routing through the area and it asked its members to help prepare a flora and fauna database.

“We will use every measure possible to fight a proposed highway through this area,” said Allen.

Jane Dellar, owner of Old Halliwell Country Inn, built in 1837, said the route would “decimate” her business.

But Pietermaritzburg-based Sanral design and construction manager, Ravi Ronnie, said the route has national strategic importance with the roads realignment being on the cards since the 1970s.

“This corridor has existed since the 1960s. Currently about 40 000 vehicles that use the N3 pass through Pietermaritzburg daily with about 7 800 being truck traffic. We estimate that within the next 20 years, there will be about 66 000 vehicles, of which about 17 000 will be trucks. The N3 corridor is part of government’s Strategic Integrated Project 2 (SIP2) as part of the Durban-free state-Gauteng freight corridor,” said Ronnie.

He said the multiple options being looked at was to pinpoint the best location for a bypass.

“No doubt funding will be a challenge [but] we cannot say whether it will be tolled or not at this stage.”

The construction cost is estimated between R12 billion and R18 billion.

“This project is a medium to long-term plan. The current planning indicates between 10 and 15 years before construction can commence. However this could change,” said Ronnie.

Kevan Zunckel, who completed the Strategic Environmental Assessment for Umgungundlovu District Municipality, said while a highway of this nature would be of “strategic importance”, it should be built in harmony with the environment.

“The N3 corridor is an economic imperative and the volume on the road will increase. Something must be done but in a sustainable manner.

“For example, adequate drainage must be used that does not promote flooding or contaminate the water. It needs to be looked at strategically. Natural water courses must be considered,” said Zunckel.

He said air quality would also need to be stringently monitored.

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