Where’s the N2 bypass?

If you’re inclined to take a weekend break and head to the Overberg and beyond, you’ll be familiar with the interminable traffic congestion that occurs on Sunday afternoons.

As you inch your way down Sir Lowry’s Pass, it is quite easy to imagine that the rest and relaxation you have enjoyed over the weekend will have evaporated by the time you get beyond the traffic light at the intersection of Sir Lowry’s Pass Road and the N2.

It is this traffic light, erected as a stop gap measure to curtail the number of road deaths that occurred at this intersection, which is the principal cause of the congestion.

It was a finger-in-the-dyke initiative, designed to make that notorious intersection safer until the long-overdue and equally long planned N2 bypass was constructed.

But it goes beyond the inconvenience of weekend congestion, because the traffic on the T2 – the stretch of road from that Sir Lowry’s Pass Road/N2 intersection to that ridiculous S-bend at Somerset Mall – has become progressively worse over the last few years, to the point where it is bumper-to-bumper between Hazelden Drive and Victoria Street pretty much from early morning to late afternoon every day of the week.

The obvious question is: why not simply upgrade the T2 and replace all traffic lights and intersections with flyovers or underpasses? Because according to the roads engineers who considered this proposal at the time, it was neither economically or spatially feasible.

Bolander reader, Julian van den Berg of Somerset West, wrote to us last week about this matter (“N2 bypass query”), asking if there are plans to improve the traffic flow on the T2.

Bolander’s enquiries to the City of Cape Town and the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) about the future of the N2 bypass have elicited either deflection or silence.

The N2 bypass has been under consideration for probably five decades. The plan is for the bypass to run from the bottom of Sir Lowry’s Pass through Firland, Nomzamo and Helderzicht and to tie back into the N2 at Somerset Mall.

The delay in implementing the bypass has always been financial. Sanral, which is tasked with building and maintaining the national roads network, has consistently pleaded poverty with the excuse that the money was not forthcoming from Treasury.

When in 2000 an unsolicited bid to toll the N1 and N2 came into being, it was a godsend.

The proposed Winelands toll project would relieve Sanral of the burden of maintaining significant stretches of the N1 and N2 for 30 years or so, and it would also ensure that the N2 bypass would finally be built.

Enter the City of Cape Town and the wider business community in the Cape Peninsula, who both felt that tolling of two stretches of national road which pass through an urban economic catchment area – Bot River to the R300 on the N2, and between the head of the Hex River Valley and the R300 on the N1 – would create unnecessary hardship for commuters – many of whom are from poor communities which border the N1 and N2 – who use these stretches of road to travel to and from work.

The community resistance to the planned toll project fell on deaf ears at Sanral, so the City of Cape Town took Sanral to court in 2011 over, among other issues, the uncertainty of the anticipated toll fees commuters could expect to pay.

An interim interdict granted in the Western Cape High Court in May 2013 found that there were sufficient grounds to justify a review of the process and decisions that resulted in the approval of the proposed tolling.

Sanral’s petition for leave to appeal was denied, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2016.

Sanral then petitioned the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal, and it lost the case in February 2017, and was ordered to pay the City’s legal costs, amounting to R20 million.

During the court proceedings, it emerged that road users would have paid some R62 billion in toll fees over the 30-year term of the toll concession.

Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona, commenting after the judgment was handed down, said “… we will continue to engage the City of Cape Town to find a solution to the growing congestion crisis in the Winelands area. Discussions with the City have already started.”

But be that the case, why was Bolander stonewalled by the City of Cape Town?

Despite pointing out that the net effect of the City’s court action to stop the toll project was the death of the N2 bypass, and concomitant growth in traffic congestion on the T2, the City insisted it had no comment, and that all enquires should be directed at Sanral.

Bolander took it one step further, and emailed Sub-council 24 chairperson and Ward 84 councillor, Stuart Pringle, and Ward 15 councillor, Greg Peck, for comment.

Both referred Bolander to Sanral.

And in response to Bolander’s email enquiry submitted on Friday May 11, Sanral responded three days later with an equally laconic “Thank you for your enquiry regarding the N2 bypass in Somerset West. We are working on a response.”

If Sanral was as good as its word, and did engage with the City as Mr Mona promised in February last year, why does neither party have anything to say?