4 April was International Road Maintenance Day with countries internationally focused on road maintenance as a fundamental action to protect the environment while contributing to socio-economic development.

“Our focus was geared towards the economic and social imperatives of proper road maintenance, of which the environment is an important part,” says Solomons. “Roads are a vital public asset and can deliver a higher economic return on investment than any other single type of infrastructure. But SA’s physical road network is likely to require billions of Rands to restore if maintenance is not taken seriously.”

The real cost of not maintaining roads is difficult to quantify because poor roads are dangerous and affect road safety, they lead to higher transportation costs and bottlenecks on busy routes, they prevent people from accessing goods and essential services, they increase vehicle operating costs due to frequent repairs and require more fuel use, and they increase CO2 emissions.

Maintenance extends the structural life of a road but when this does not take place on time, the road deteriorates rapidly and instead of road maintenance, road rehabilitation is required and the costs soar.

Solomons urges all South African road authorities to prioritise road maintenance.

“A proper Pavement Management System should be used to identify areas where maintenance is required, in order to prioritise and action projects,” he says. “This will preserve the road network and extend the life of a road.”

Road deterioration happens in stages.

“It is caused by ultra violet light from the sun, storm and rain water and traffic,” says Solomons. “These stages start with ageing of the bitumen which causes the surfacing to crack and this is when road maintenance must come in. But if it doesn’t, water seeps into the underlying layers causing them to weaken. If the cracks are not sealed, potholes form which trigger further rapid deterioration of the road. This is all compounded by overloaded trucks – one overloaded truck can carry the same weight as about 20,000 cars.”

The design life of a road is anything from 15 to 20 years and besides resurfacing, road maintenance is unlikely to be necessary before 15 years. However, roads must be consistently monitored so that issues are picked up and appropriate maintenance quickly initiated.

“While some of our road authorities may have a challenge of competency and skills, upskilling and training can far more easily be dealt with than declining roads,” says Solomons. “We have a rich pool of experienced road and transport experts in South Africa that are supporting the transport sector.”

Recently, SARF conducted a training programme for the Department of Public Works in the North West province ahead of a major gravel roads maintenance and construction programme.

South Africa boasts the world’s 10th longest road network and 18th longest paved road network. The country has an estimated road network length of 750,000 kilometres (2015), which consists of 158,124 kilometres of paved roads and 591,876 kilometres of gravel roads (National Department of Transport, 2016). In 2014, the value of SA’s road network was estimated at around R2 trillion.

“Dealing with road maintenance across our 750,000-kilometre network will help avoid a debt burden on future generations,” adds Solomons.