In most parts of South Africa, the average quality of road surfaces has dropped significantly over the past two decades.
So what’s causing deteriorating road conditions in South Africa?
Some of the reasons, like insufficient spending on road maintenance, are clear. Other causes of the problem may be less obvious.
Deteriorating roads across SA: Statistics
In 2019, UCT’s Professor Don Ross and Mathew Townshend reported that as many as 77.5% of all gravel roads in South Africa are currently in poor or very poor condition.
The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) noted that since 2013, the percentage of Jo’burg’s surfaced roads rated as good or very good has dropped from 52% to 45%.
Road conditions are worsening in the Western Cape too.
According to a government report, only a fraction of the gravel loss per annum has been replaced during the last decade.
This has resulted in “average gravel thickness decreasing from 75 mm in 1990 to 23 mm in 2009 and remaining at that thickness since then.”
The report notes that this has resulted in “a significant increase in very poor roads.”
So what are the causes of worsening roads in the country?
Neglected road maintenance and rehabilitation
Insufficient road maintenance is a key reason for the worsening state of SA’s roads.
Without on-going repairs and periodic resurfacing, roads lose thickness and become prone to surface damage.
Their lifespan drops sharply. They also become more dangerous for motorists.
Even roads that are properly maintained eventually need resurfacing.
From 1998 to 2008, the portion of the national road network older than its original 20-year design life grew from 36% to 78%.
Massive cost of road maintenance backlogs
South Africa is facing massive road maintenance backlogs.
One economist estimates that we’d need to spend R138 billion each year to fund road maintenance.
Other estimates put SA’s backlog at closer to R200 billion.
According to Professors Don Ross and Mathew Townshend, it could cost South Africa as much as R1.7 trillion to upgrade its gravel roads.
Increased number of cars on SA roads
The volume of cars on our roads has increased massively over the past two decades.
Over more recent years, the number of cars on South Africa’s roads has been increasing at a steady rate of about 4% each year.
Higher traffic volumes put increased pressure on the roads.
How South Africa builds roads
The way South Africa builds roads is a lot less expensive than US or European methods. However, it also results in shorter road lifespans.
South African roads feature crushed rock and gravel layers, below the road surfacing.
According to SANRAL, these layers reduce the cost of roads by as much as 40%.
However, when road surfaces crack, rains penetrate. Once the lower rock and gravel layers get wet, they lose their strength.
The result is potholes.
Higher axle loads for road freight
The number of road freight vehicles plying the roads has increased steadily over the past 40 or so years.
Most South African roads were designed for 8,200 kilogram axle loads.
In 1993, the government increased the legal axle load – or legal axle mass (LAM) – to 9,300 kilograms. This puts more pressure on road surfaces.
Modern tyre designs for freight vehicles
SA roads were designed based on the use of cross-ply tyres. Since the 1980s, freight vehicles have switched to steel belt radial tyres.
The point loading effect of these tyres is about twice as great as for cross-ply tyres.
Decreasing fuel sales
The fuel levy helps fund road maintenance projects. But it doesn’t contribute nearly enough.
Also, as vehicles become more fuel-efficient, people are using less fuel. That means less money raised via the levy.
Fuel sales increased by about 50% between 1997 and 2018. However, the number of cars on our roads nearly doubled during this period.
What we offer at KH Plant
At KH Plant, we don’t maintain or repair roads ourselves – but we do offer exceptionally affordable, rebuilt Caterpillar motor graders, ideal for road grading.
We specialise in restoring Caterpillar 140G, 140H and 140K graders and components to as-new condition. So you can get the benefits of a new motor grader at a fraction of the cost of a new machine.
Contact us for more information or to discuss your needs.