Too many toll roads will discourgae investment

The imposition of further tolls on Gauteng roads will discourage investment in the province, the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said on Monday.

“Sacci opposes the introduction of tolls for maintenance purposes as there will be no resultant overall cost benefit to transport operators, commuters and other road users,” president Chose Choeu said in a statement.

“Sacci predicts that increasing the tolls on Gauteng roads, no matter what the motivation, will discourage investment in the province and, with extensions to KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town, in those areas as well, particularly since these three centres comprise the core of industrial output and development in South Africa.”

Choeu’s comments follow a report in The Star newspaper indicating the much-maligned tolling system expected to come into force later this year was just the beginning. The paper reported that phase two of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project would see “every major road route” in Johannesburg and Pretoria possibly being tolled within the next three years.

Gauteng is South Africa’s economic hub.

The second phase would cover 300 kilometres of road – the first phase covers 185 kilometres – with work on the R24 billion project expected to start next year.

The system would also be rolled out in Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal, albeit not on as wide a scale as in Gauteng.

Choeu said of equal concern were reports that the Johannesburg Roads Agency was considering tolling the city’s motorways to fund the maintenance backlog.

He said it appeared “little consideration” was given to the “additional costs” to road users resulting from delays and inconvenience during the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

“During construction on the Ben Schoeman motorway Sacci conservatively estimated that the cost to the economy on that highway only was approximately R15 million per hour.

“The statement by the Johannesburg Roads Agency that it intends to toll the city’s motorways is in direct conflict with the stated aims of imposing tolls which include: ‘Tolls will only be applied to new roads or roads that have been upgraded to such an extent that they can be regarded as new’, and ‘Improvements in traffic flows must be such that the savings generated are in excess of the cost of the toll’.”

Sacci called on the transport department, the SA National Roads Agency and the Johannesburg Roads Agency to “seriously consider” the implications of extending the toll system and to find alternative sources of funding for the road work planned.

Sanral said earlier that the tariffs for the first phase of the system could cost 66 cents a kilometre. After a massive public outcry, Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane announced the suspension of the tariffs pending further consultation. ANC ally, the Congress of SA Trade Unions in Gauteng, had also threatened industrial action against the toll fees, which it believed would hit the poor and workers hard.

Sanral chief executive Nazir Alli could not immediately be reached for comment. – Sapa [date:] 2011-03-15

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