Step back, Kimberley!

Step back, Kimberley!

By now, even I’m growing tired of hearing about e-tolls … but if you’ve witnessed the relentless rain over Gauteng this past month, you’ll understand more clearly why there’s so much angst over where the money’s going

Driving in Joburg is becoming more treacherous by the day – keeping your distance from insolent taxis, watching for robot jumpers, simply trying to cope with the constantly growing number of vehicles jostling for space, or avoiding thieves wanting to steal your money by means of electronic collection (I no longer drive Gauteng’s freeways as a matter of principle) … The list could fill every column on this page.

And the situation gets worse when it rains. I don’t know what it is, but Joburg drivers completely forget what they’re doing when the roads get wet. It’s as though some of them have just got behind the wheel for the very first time.

To aggravate matters further, extra confusion is caused when the road is in a bad condition. Traffic lights and street lights on the blink; poor markings; overflowing (or non-existent) storm water drainage; potholes, ruts and ridges dotted around with Grand Canyon-like size and regularity – that sort of stuff. Hooting, swearing and/or crunched metal usually result.

And there we were one night, my lift and I, on our way back home, driving down William Nicol Drive from Montecasino in the north of Johannesburg. Then, all of a sudden, panic, followed by a succession of two quick bangs as the front, and then the rear, left side of the car dropped into one of the constellation of craters taking up two of the three lanes …

Masked by the night (along with bad lighting and poor road markings, naturally) we had little chance of avoiding it. Swerve to the right and hit the car alongside, swerve to the left and plunge into the dark abyss of an even larger pothole.

It was thus that we found ourselves on the side of the road with a burst front left tyre – the rear, thankfully, still in one piece. In the half an hour that we were immobile, another three vehicles joined in on the roadside fun (numerous others were lucky enough to escape with all four wheels intact). “Those were not there yesterday!” exclaimed one of the other frustrated drivers.

And I could believe it, because just a day later I hit a rapidly developing pothole in my street that, too, wasn’t there a day prior. There was also a section of road and pavement in Johannesburg’s suburb of Linden, that I drive daily, that rapidly decayed as the rains pelted down day after day. Let us also not forget Bryanston’s Coleraine Drive that completely collapsed …

In one weekend, said the manager of the tyre store – where our tyre was replaced and suspension and steering geometry brought back (way back) into spec – three tyre insurance claim books were completed!

Clearly, there is a mass (even more than usual) of agitated vehicle owners on Gauteng’s roads. So, what do the “powers that be” plan to do about it? In an emergency response, Gauteng MEC for roads and transport, Ismail Vadi, launched a road maintenance campaign to fix road damage caused by the rain, hoping to fix all the potholes in the province within two to three weeks. (That time span should lapse round about the time you read this …)

In the longer term, the City of Johannesburg has allocated R110 billion for capital infrastructure over the next
ten years, while the Johannesburg Roads Agency is rolling out a R1 billion roads resurfacing programme until 2016. Some of the infrastructure expenditure will go to cyclist and pedestrian lanes as well as new stormwater, pavement and roads asset management systems, among others.

With Johannesburg’s ageing, crumbling, poorly maintained infrastructure, I sincerely hope this investment will not be too little too late. Otherwise, we might have to ask Kimberley to step back – Joburg’s currently poised to claim the title of “The Big Hole”.

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