Costly tolls spoil famous cape route

 

SUNDAY TIMES – September 1, 2013

TWENTY years ago it was South Africa’s most spectacular road. Today it is a spectacular public relations disaster.

Court cases, protests, spiraling costs and even a hunger strike have turned Chapman’s Peak Drive into one of the country’s most unpopular toll roads.

It is also one of the most expensive per kilometre – R36 for a 9km stretch of tar connecting the city of Cape Town to the south peninsula.

Now the private consortium that rebuilt the road for at least R165-million is under the spotlight for building a R54-million toll plaza office into the side of Chapman’s Peak.

The new toll plaza is largely funded by the Western Cape provincial government, which claims it will recoup the costs from toll fees.

Despite the ambitious and expensive rehabilitation project, rocks and mud continue to fall on the road, which was closed again this week after a mudslide caused by heavy rain.

A raft of problems continue to beset Chapman’s Peak Drive, including:

  • The Hout Bay Residents Association this week appealed to the Competition Commission to investigate the entire 30-year toll road contract. Two companies linked to the project have accepted fines in a R1.46-billion construction industry collusion scandal;
  • The Swiss company that provided safety nets to prevent rocks rolling on the road withdrew its safety guarantee two years ago for undisclosed reasons;
  • A community leader from Hout Bay, which adjoins Chapman’s Peak Drive has called on residents to boycott the toll road to “punish” the provincial government for an “undemocratic” decision to support it; and
  • A geology professor has warned that the new R54-million toll plaza office building is built into a slope of granite koalinite that, if disturbed, is prone to mudslides and slippages.

Considered one of the world’s most scenic routes, Chapman’s Peak Drive was built almost 100 years ago largely by convicts, who had to quarry deep into the side of the mountain. Rock falls have occurred ever since.

Despite vigorous opposition by local residents, a private business consortium now called Entilini was awarded a lucrative 30-year contract to fix the road, maintain it and manage two toll points. Murray & Roberts became a shareholder of the consortium in 2006.

The consortium subcontracted the project to Haw & Inglis. It included rock fall protection such as catch fences, canopies, a 150m half-tunnel and stone masonry walls.

Murray-& Roberts and Haw & Inglis are among several companies subsequently implicated in collusive tendering in the construction industry. Murray & Roberts accepted a fine of more than R300-million — about double the estimated cost of the Chapman’s Peak road rehabilitation.

The final office block-building phase began last year and was met with protests, including a hunger strike and residents handcuffing themselves to the construction site. Court action to halt the toll plaza failed.

Cliffie Nogwavu, a community leader in Hout Bay’s Imizamo Yethu township, said the new toll plaza was a case of double standards.

“The government keeps saying that the people must not build then shacks on the mountain, but look what they have done. They are doing what satisfies them.

“We, the people of Imizamo, are no longer using that route,” he said.

Len Swimmer, chairman of the Hout Bay Residents’ Association, said the toll had effectively cut off Hout Bay from the rest of the peninsula. He said the association had spent nearly R1 million in legal fees trying to halt the project, of which it still owed R300 000. A concert was planned to raise money to pay the outstanding amount.

Neither Entilini spokesman Enzo Menegaldo nor provincial government transport and public works MEC Robin Carlisle was available for comment this week.

However, Carlisle’s spokesman, Siphesihle Dube, said there was no reason to suspect irregularities with the R54-million toll plaza building. “The costs were extensively evaluated and vetted by an independent engineer and consultant and deemed appropriate for the project,” Dube said.

Murray & Roberts spokesman Eduard Jardim did not respond to queries.