No bitumen halts work on R34

2012-09-03 00:00

THE construction of the John Ross Highway (the R34), costing more than R1-billion, has been delayed by more than eight months due to the countrywide shortage of bitumen.

According to project consultant Brian Henwood, of Pietermaritzburg consultancy Henwood and Nxumalo, there had been “unexpected delays” due to the expiry of an asphalt construction contract and “procurement problems” with the award of the new contract.

“This urgent matter is currently being addressed by the KwaZulu-Natal Transport Department,” said Henwood.

In a project overview report tabled in August, the consultancy said the “erratic supply of bitumen” from Durban refineries had had a “major negative effect on the asphalt construction programme”. It further said the haphazard supply had had a “direct impact on the completion of the John Ross highway”, which has been “delayed by eight months”.

In August, newly-appointed national transport minister Ben Martins said the bitumen supply shortage was straining road maintenance in the country.

He said the primary reason for the shortage was oil companies experiencing “unplanned shutdowns at the refineries” or not having “sufficient storage capacity to maintain minimum bitumen reserves during shutdowns”.

The R1,1-billion dual carriageway is predominantly funded by the provincial transport department, with additional funding coming from the local municipality (R30 million), the uThungulu District Municipality (R10,4 million) and BHP Billiton, who contributed R50-million for the construction of a bridge with interchange ramps over the highway, giving their Hillside aluminium operation ease of access to the port. So far, 15,2 km of highway has been completed or is close to completion. This includes a 1,2 km bridge at a cost of R270 million.

Henwood said construction of the highway entering into Empangeni is now active, and cautioned commuters to expect further delays until 2013.

“A R132-million contract is currently underway and will see the construction of two bridges over the railway line and the completion of the 1,5 km of dual carriageway under traffic. Severe traffic delays can be expected,” he said.

Coming of the N2, the R34, or John Ross Highway daily carries more than 23 000 vehicles, including 1 500 articulated trucks laden with goods, many destined for off-loading at the port of Richards Bay.

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