SANRAL’s international conference paves the way for the future of road tunnels in SA

    Cape Town: The South African National Roads Agency SOC Ltd (SANRAL) recently hosted engineers from several countries across the globe, at the World Road Association (PIARC) conference on Road Tunnel Operations in Low and Medium-Income Countries. The conference was held at the V&A Waterfront from 18-20 October.

    The event was formally opened by the CEO of SANRAL, Skhumbuzo Macozoma, also a registered Civil Engineer, who had this to say in his opening remarks: “The national road network is at the core South Africa’s future growth trajectory. It links people to opportunities, connects communities across rural and urban divides and holds vast potential for job creation, empowerment and skills development.

    “At a time when the world is undergoing rapid changes brought on by new – and sometimes disruptive – technologies, it is important for 21st-century organisations such as SANRAL to embrace change and continuously adapt our strategies to remain at the leading edge of trends in the management of vital economic infrastructure. It is also of critical importance that we unlock the value of our country’s road network and build partnerships with communities so that they become active participants in the entire process of delivery – from planning to construction to the supply of services and material to long-term maintenance”.

    On the first day, engineering professionals engaged with thought-provoking presentations of new technological breakthroughs in civil engineering around safe design and operations of road tunnels. The South African team led with a presentation on the Huguenot Tunnel, with a focus on operations, maintenance and planned upgrades.

    Day two saw the delegates do a site-visit to the Huguenot Tunnel and in particular the operations control centre and the North Bore. This tunnel constitutes a major transportation link between the coastal plains of the Western Cape and the interior and is one of the most strategic infrastructure assets of the National Road Network in South Africa.

    The almost 4km long tunnel reduces the distance between Paarl and Worcester by 11km and eliminates a climb of some 500m over the Du Toits Kloof Pass, which by its nature imposes severe constraints and safety concerns for the road user.

    The technical site visit provided great context for reflection on previous plenary sessions as well as insight for paving the way forward in planning much-needed upgrades both structural and technological.

    “We are very proud of the Western Cape’s flagship project, the Huguenot Tunnel which this year is 29 years old. At the time it was built, it has revolutionised the way road users travel within the region. However, nearly 30 years on, the time has come for significant upgrade and improvement,” said Macozoma.

    The conference concluded with a focus on sustainable funding for safe tunnels, tunnel construction choices, and in particular case studies based on the Huguenot Tunnel and Gautrain.

    Drawing on experience, insight and technical expertise from countries where the road tunnels are far superior in design, capacity and technology, the way was paved for SANRAL to take the next step in road tunnel engineering, as the Huguenot Tunnel and its imminent upgrades remains a priority.