Toll operator shows it does give a fig, spending R1 mln to save one tree

2012-11-22 00:00

THE cost of building a section of national road around a centuries-old wild fig tree? R1 million.

This is the extra amount that Trac (Trans African Concessions), the concession holders of the N4 toll road, had to fork out to build the extension of the N4 highway outside Nelspruit to avoid destroying a ficus salicifolia.

“The tree would originally have had to be removed in order to make place for two new lanes, but after the community expressed their unhappiness with the step, various options were considered to try and save the tree,” said Trac spokesperson Anita Heyl.

Last year, a row erupted in the Nelspruit area when it became known that the tree would have to be removed to accommodate the new road.

Initially the tree was claimed to be one of only two in the Lowveld, but it was later found that there are many such trees in the Lowveld and that neither is it an endangered species.

“We understood that people have emotional ties with the tree, and considered a range of options.

“One was to re-establish the tree elsewhere, but we found that it would have been very costly to uproot the tree and that there could not be any real guarantee that the tree would survive the move.”

During this time Trac also worked with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to determine the age of the tree.

“Samples of the tree were sent to the Netherlands for that purpose.”

According to the research report the tree is between 215 and 265 years old.

“So we understood that the tree is special to the community and very old, but still had to await permission from Sanral [South African National Road Agency] to redesign the road to avoid the tree.”

In October 2011 Sanral agreed to the redesign.

Graham Esterhuysen, Trac’s technical manager, says about one kilometre of the road had to be replanned. “We also had to cart in additional material and soil so that a surface could be created where the road had to run.

“This all cost an additional R1 million and delayed the project for about two months.”

The road is now almost completed and the old tree stands proudly, almost like an island, between the old and the new road.

Heyl says the tree is now part of the N4 story, in much the same way as the large rock representing Old Joe Barbas serves as a tourist attraction.

“The tree now makes that section unique, not only for the N4, but also for the Nelspruit area.”

 

 

 

 

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