The bulk of the N1/N2 Winelands Toll Highway Project comprises interchanges and upgrades to bridges and tunnels rather than contentious toll gates.
The introduction of tolls to the Western Cape represents a small part of the overall proposed N1/N2 Winelands Toll Highway Project, the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) said on Tuesday.
"Tolls are a small component of the overall project. In money terms, it's not even 20%. The bulk of the cost is on upgrades," said project engineer Tiago Massingue on the sidelines of a Sanral media briefing in Bellville.
The proposed N1/N2 project envisages the introduction of traditional toll booths on about 180km of provincial roads. Massingue said the project includes 16 "brand new" interchanges and upgrades to pavements, bridges and tunnels.
The proposed concession route along the N1 extends from west of the R300 interchange through to Sandhills. The N2 portion of the proposed toll road concession extends from west of the R300 to Bot River.
Ventilation in the Western Cape's Huguenot tunnel is a major component of the project, but it cannot be upgraded unless the proposed N1/N2 project goes ahead, said Sanral.
"The tunnel is a major component ... that's our biggest struggle at the moment because our concern about safety comes first," said Massingue. "We cannot operate a tunnel if we feel it's unsafe."
Sanral regional manager Kobus van der Walt said the Huguenot tunnel and road needed to be upgraded because it was not designed for the amount of heavy vehicles it was carrying.
The toll tunnel on the N1 goes through the Du Toitskloof mountains and connects Paarl and Worcester.
"If we have an accident and a head-on collision in the tunnel and a fire, we sit with a major problem there because of the fire regulation nowadays," he said.
In Europe, a tunnel has to withstand a 100 megawatt fire.
"Our tunnel can only carry a 30MW fire; that is basically a car that burns. But as soon as a tanker burns, we're talking about a 100MW, 200MW fire," said Van der Walt.
"The big problem is not so much the fire, it's the smoke. We need to upgrade the ventilation system in the tunnel."
Sanral's main plan was to open a second tunnel to allow for two separate passages carrying traffic flowing in opposite directions.
The Cape Town high court granted the City of Cape Town an interim interdict in May last year preventing Sanral from implementing or advancing the toll project, including the conclusion of any contract or commencement of construction.
The interim relief was granted pending the court's review of Sanral's decision to implement the toll project. The review date has yet to be determined.
Massingue said the highway project would introduce traditional toll booths, rather than e-tolling gantries. "You'd call it a traditional [toll]. It's a boom down situation where you go, you stop, you pay and you go."
He said the e-tolling system, as introduced in the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), was only valid when roads carried a massive number of vehicles.
An example was the Ben Schoeman Interchange in Gauteng, which carried 220 000 vehicles a day, making it impractical to stop and start with traditional tolls.
Massingue said highway portions around Cape Town carried between 52 000 and 160 000 vehicles a day.
"In 30 years from now, if that situation did arise, that we jump exponentially to the high volume recorded about the GFIP, then we'll introduce it [e-tolling]."
Sanral is responsible for around 19 700km of the country's 750 000km road network, according to a presentation.
Of these, 84% of roads are not tolled. Agency tolls operate 9% and private concessionaires operate 7% of tolls.
Massingue said they had not negotiated a contract with a prospective concessionaire pending the "unfortunate" court action.
When asked why Sanral wished to use a private funding model for the winelands project instead of looking to the national treasury, he said: "Our overall budget we receive annually was R10-billion from the treasury. This project, a single project, is R10-billion. It's absolutely difficult for treasury to raise that amount of money to upgrade."
"It is incorrect to assume treasury will always have money ... Regardless of who pays, the upgrades and improvements remain crucial." - Sapa