The proposed toll roads on the N1 and N2 highways linking Cape Town to the rest of the Western Cape could seriously threaten tourism to the province’s country towns, and with it its wine industry, and could impact on food and wine prices too. The proposed project is being opposed at the highest level.
The proposed R10 billion toll road plan includes a second Huguenot Tunnel to be completed for the N1 highway, outside Paarl. A ‘tunnel’ is also to be built, connecting De Beers Avenue and Victoria Road between Somerset West and Strand, to take traffic off the current road through the industrial part of Somerset West, which causes huge traffic blockages at peak tourist traffic times, especially on Friday and Sunday afternoons, despite the recent completion of the widening of this section of the highway. Toll stations have been proposed on the N1 at the Old Oak interchange (near Kraaifontein) up to the Hex River valley, and on the N2 from Bot River going east for 70 km. This means that any visitors to the Winelands via the N1 (Franschhoek, Paarl, Wellington, Robertson) will be affected in particular, as will be those travelling to Hermanus, and to the already tourist-deficient Garden Route. Costs to the financially constrained hospitality industry will rise, as farmers and suppliers will have to add the toll costs to their produce.
Resistance to the proposed tunnels, especially to the second Huguenot Tunnel, has come from the national Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin, reports the Cape Argus. The Deputy Minister questioned the decisions made by the SA National Roads Agency Limited, stating that these should be made at far higher levels. He does not believe that it is a ‘big national, or provincial or Cape Town priority‘. Cronin suggested that the Cape’s bigger priority is to provide more public transport, and to move more road freight onto transportation by trains.
Last week it was reported that Patricia de Lille, Mayor of Cape Town, had filed an interim interdict against SANRAL’s proposed toll road plans. The City of Cape Town motivated its interdict application as follows: “millions of people and businesses will be adversely affected financially by the proposed tolling, and the City will have to foot the bill for maintaining and upgrading municipal roads to accommodate the traffic that will divert off the national roads if they are tolled”, reports Southern African Tourism Update. The approval of the N1/N2 Winelands Toll Highway Project by then Minister of Environmental Affairs Marthinus van Schalkwyk has been seen by the City to be flawed, in that the Environmental Impact Assessment did not evaluate the socio-economic effect of the proposed tolling. The City also believes that tolling is an ‘inefficient and often unfair way of funding road upgrades’. Other bodies that have expressed their opposition to the proposed project include the Cape Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the ANC in Cape Town, COSATU, and Cape Town Routes Unlimited.
The interdict application of the City of Cape Town is due to be heard on 6 December. Construction work is expected to start in the second quarter of next year, and will take three years, it is planned.
POSTSCRIPT 24/10: The Cape Times reports today that the national Minister of Transport, S’bu Ndebele, has put all planned toll road projects on hold, in order that ‘concerned parties’ be given a chance to express their views. The Minister said that while roads should be of a good standard and thereby assist in meeting economic growth targets, the proposed road developments should not place a heavy burden on ‘consumers’. The City of Cape Town has said that it is continuing its interdict application. The City says that the implementation of toll roads is ‘fundamentally flawed and illegal’, and that it is ‘unfair discrimination against poor and largely black communities who would be disproportionately affected’. From a tourism and hospitality industry perspective, the Minister’s action is welcomed.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage