Town Hill Carnage

2008-05-15 00:00

A 1930’s photograph from The Witness archives of the mangled wreckage of a motorcar involved in a fatal accident on Town Hill underlines the notoriety of that stretch of road. Despite a slew of measures to improve the situation, the Town Hill section of the N3 continues to be a red zone, a fact underlined by Monday’s dramatic and tragic accident which cost one life and closed down the Durban-bound lane of the highway for six hours.

Unfortunately, Town Hill is not the only area affected by these regular blockages. All too often access to Durban, South Africa’s chief port, is blocked or severely circumscribed for lengthy periods either by roadworks or truck accidents.

As with the electricity crisis, solutions seem slow in coming. One positive development is that the proposed new oil pipeline is expected to reduce significantly the number of oil tankers on the road. However, this will take several years to complete and will only make a dent in the congestion which is reaching critical levels.

There is also a grave need to offer inducements to exporters and importers to make more use of rail. Besides this, more should be done to upgrade the N3. Investigation suggests that, had a second arrestor bed on Town Hill been better maintained, Monday’s accident might have been averted. Those commuters who regularly have to endure the chicken run with strings of heavies all intent on lumbering past one another on the narrow roadway between Cato Ridge and Pietermaritzburg would probably add widening that section of road to their list of priorities.

Other solutions have been mooted, such as the construction of a new toll road between Howick and Ashburton, or the creation of a dry port at Mooi River, but neither offers any relief in the short term. But if nothing else, it is abundantly clear to all those commuters who have encountered cowboys driving rigs as big as houses that more rigorous policing is necessary and perhaps a permanent weighbridge and inspection office, like the one outside Heidelberg in Gauteng, should be built at or near the top of Town Hill.

Whatever measures are taken, it is clear that this country can ill afford the wastage in lives, time and fuel that these regular blockages to the country’s main arterial route involve.

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