Crumbling Road Infrastructure More Than Doubles Truck Maintenance Costs

17 June 2021 – The cost of South Africa’s road maintenance backlog is now close to R417 billion, having more than doubled in the past seven years. According to economic consultant Dr Matthew Townshend, the country’s extensive road network of 750 000 km used to be South Africa’s single largest public asset, valued at between R2.3 and R3.3 trillion. Thanks to inadequate maintenance, the network has however deteriorated to such an extent that its value has significantly depreciated and is now estimated to only be around R958 billion.

Roads were slowly losing their value and serviceability, he said during a recent online conference. “The state of South African roads will have a serious impact on logistics operations in the country considering the reliance of the logistics industry on road transport,” he said. “The maintenance cost for light vehicles travelling on deteriorating roads is as much as double when compared to travelling on well-maintained roads. The impact of poor roads on heavy-duty vehicles is even more.”

A study for the University of Cape Town undertaken by Townshend and other researchers found that the provincial road maintenance backlog was currently at around R150.7 billion – more than six times the annual expenditure, while the municipal road maintenance backlog was estimated at R242.9 billion, eight times the annual budget. “We are looking here at a quantum of road maintenance backlog that will not be addressed. We cannot expect to get the network back to fully serviceable conditions any time soon,” said Townshend.

At least 24% of the country’s paved road network is considered to be in a poor or very poor state. This is far worse when it comes to gravel roads where an estimated 85% fall into this category. According to the World Bank’s global standard for road maintenance, no more than 10% of roads should fall into this category. “The deterioration of our roads is a serious concern, considering that supply chains in the country are overly reliant on the road networks and rail reform plans are still a long way off – notwithstanding that transitioning from road to rail is a long-term strategy.” He said as vehicle operating costs increased as road conditions worsened the cost of logistics could therefore be expected to increase under the current circumstances. South Africa’s logistics costs in 2014 were already estimated to be around 57%, significantly higher than the world average of 39%. “The cost to repair roads in poor and very poor condition is also respectively six and 18 times higher than normal road maintenance.”

At present, the biggest pressure points were on the low-volume gravel roads – mostly roads to farms and mining operations.

“The road maintenance backlog has reached the point where road departments must shift their focus to optimal prioritisation of road maintenance schedules,” he said. According to the minister of transport Fikile Mbalula, the government was set to increase funding for major road infrastructure projects, including the revamping and maintenance of national roads. He said the expenditure was expected to increase at an average annual rate of 8.1%, from R57.3 billion in 2020/21 to R72.5 billion in 2023/24. Source (Freight News)