City, Sanral remain at loggerheads over toll roads

The SA National Roads Agency Ltd (SANRAL) says it is awaiting the outcome of its appeal against last year’s High Court judgment that slammed the brakes on its Winelands tolling plans.

Arguments were presented before the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein on Tuesday August 16. At the same time, the City of Cape Town defended the judgment handed down by Justices Ashley Binns-Ward and Nolwazi Boqwana of the Western Cape High Court on September 30 last year, which prevented Sanral from tolling sections of the N1 and N2 freeways in Cape Town.

Mayoral committee member for transport Brett Herron said: “Sanral appealed against the judgment which reviewed and set aside the approvals that would enable Sanral to burden Western Cape road users with R62 billion of tolling costs.

“The Winelands tolling case has been dragging on for too long already. The City once again argued in the SCA that the process undertaken by Sanral to declare portions of the N1 and N2 as toll roads was improper and unlawful.”

Mr Herron added: “The City requested that the SCA dismiss the Sanral appeal with costs of three counsel.”

He said: “Even though it is within the (national) government’s mandate to determine how road infrastructure should be funded, the political decision-makers and public entities such as Sanral are still obliged to follow due process and to act within the law.

“The City remains opposed to tolling as a funding mechanism for the upgrading of existing roads, and we will take this fight to the country’s highest court if need be. We are, however, willing and eager to work with Sanral to find a solution for the infrastructural upgrades that may be required for the N1 and N2 freeways.”

Sanral regional manager Kobus van der Walt told Northern News: “The judgment reviewed and set aside the… declaration and the board decision that enables Sanral to develop, finance, upgrade, maintain and operate, through the involvement of the private sector, the improvement of 105.8km along the N1 and 70.3km along the N2.

“The upgrades cover a number of proposals including widening sections of the road, new construction, the upgrading of 16 interchanges as well as the Huguenot Tunnel, realignment and continuity of the national route through the Helderberg.”

He said: “Sanral (remains of the view), that the government of the Western Cape and City of Cape Town are all in agreement that the upgrades are urgently required to ensure road users can benefit from safer roads on which to drive and in the process, to promote the economic development of the province and country as a whole.

“Sanral respects and adheres to the laws of the Republic of South Africa and will review the judgment handed down by the SCA as and when it is delivered.”

In its statement, the City outlined some of its arguments against Sanral’s tolling plan:

* The Minister of Transport must approve the declaration of a toll road, but the minister at the time admitted that he had not not considered the merits of declaring a toll road;

* According to the Sanral Act, only the Sanral board may take the decision to declare a toll road – the board never made such a decision and was never given the information to enable it to make such a decision;

* Sanral’s public participation process did not meet the requirements of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act – the only information provided to the public was where the toll roads would start and end, and the location of the toll plazas. The public’s comments and objections… were not presented to the board;

* Sanral’s report to the Minister of Transport masked the fact that 99 percent of the comments received were objections, including objections from every affected municipality and the Western Cape province, the duly elected local and regional representatives of all of the affected residents, and road users;

* The report to the minister did not mention the serious social impacts of tolling, the affordability of the proposed toll fees for low-income earners and the financial viability of tolling; and

* Sanral has proposed a concession contract which guarantees payment of R62 billion – a cost which will have to be covered by the users of these roads by paying toll fees at a rate per kilometre, which will be more than three times higher (344 percent) than the toll fees paid by the users of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.