Sanral scrambles for new contractor as multibillion toll road stalls
It insists on finding an overseas firm to finish the job after the local joint venture abandoned mega Wild Coast project
The South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) has conceded that the abandonment of the R1, 6bn Mtentu bridge project by the Aveng Strabag Joint Venture (ASJV) is a setback.
Last month, Austria-based Strabag Company and Aveng Construction Company left the site of the Mtentu bridge, one of the longest main-span balanced cantilever bridges in the world.
The bridge reaches heights of 220m and will be the highest bridge in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.
It forms part of the N2 Wild Coast road project and is Sanral’s mega-bridge project at the Mtentu River.
Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona said they were looking to overseas companies to complete the project.
“Given the size and complexity of the bridge, no South African firm(s) can be considered by themselves and any new consortium or joint venture will need to include an international partner with the appropriate experience and expertise,” said Mona.
He said it was not yet determined what process would be followed to find a replacement contractor. The Aveng and Strabag joint-venture, he added, had specifically failed to follow an instruction to return to work after a suspension of their work was lifted.
“Under the International Federation of Consulting Engineers contract in place a force majeure event needs to meet certain legal requirements and last for a continuous period of 84 days or longer to allow a contractor to legally terminate on these grounds,” he said.
ASJV had, in the interim, according to Mona, cancelled all its employment, supplier and subcontractor contracts.
There have been a number of community protests in the area of Bizana along the new road. The Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) has called for the project to stop and “to move the road from the coastline”.
Mona said that when the contract was suspended due to community protests in late October 2018, almost 10 months of the 40-month contractual period had passed, but the joint venture was already 176 working days or approximately eight months behind on meeting the contractual completion date. They were 76 working days behind on even a revised construction programme.
“The joint venture was facing the prospect of having to accelerate their progress dramatically at considerable cost to themselves, or face substantial penalties at the end of the project. Aveng Grinaker LTA was nominally the lead partner in the joint venture but their financial difficulties and severe loss of experienced staff over recent years is well known publicly.”
Nonhle Mbuthuma from the ACC said recently that Sanral must stop all work along the greenfield section of the N2 Toll Road.
“Sanral must start again a proper consultation process with all rural communities disturbed by the N2 project,” said Mbuthuma.
She said they had complained that the N2 toll road would split Mdatya and Sigidi villages in two. “It will take our land for a highway we don’t want or need. It will destroy our eco-tourism projects. We want decent local roads.”
In their interim results for the half-year ended on December 31, Aveng said they terminated the Mtentu bridge project “following safety concerns”.
The N2 Wild Coast Road is a 410km route between East London and the Mtamvuna River near Port Edward.
Sanral started upgrading sections of the road in 2011.
Work on the 112km greenfield section between Ndwalane outside Port St Johns and the Mtanvuna River began in 2017 with construction of haul roads to the Msikaba and Mtentu river bridge sites. Construction of the Mtentu bridge started in January 2018 and of the Msikaba bridge in January 2019.
“Seven additional major river bridges and a large number of interchanges, pedestrian, agricultural and vehicle overpasses and underpasses, is expected to be tendered mid-2019, with the remaining sections rolling out through 2019 and 2020. The project is expected to be substantially completed by 2024,” said Mona.
Eastern Cape transport, safety and liaison MEC Weziwe Tikana visited the area last week and addressed residents about the project.
Tikana’s spokesperson, Unathi Bhinqose, said the meeting was aimed at engaging with community leaders on the future of the project.
“It was a meeting aimed at introducing the Political Oversight Committee (POC) to the traditional leadership. It was a brief session where Sanral reiterated their commitment to the project,” said Bhinqose.
“MEC Tikana, in her capacity as the chair of the POC, also reminded stakeholders present of the significance of the project and that this is a national project that’s bigger than even the province itself and that should be afforded the respect it deserves.”