Monday, October 23, 2006

S.Africa plans massive road works for World Cup

South Africa unveiled a plan on Monday to ease traffic gridlock and cut road deaths as it prepares to host the 2010 soccer World Cup.

Vehicle accidents are one of the top 10 killers in South Africa, with about half of the estimated 14,000 fatalities each year involving pedestrians who were hit by a vehicle. With the country set to host the world's biggest sporting event in four years, the race is on to improve public transport to ensure the smooth flow of players and spectators to stadiums.

The government is seeking cabinet approval to spend 5 billion rand ($652.1 million) per year between now and 2014 to improve everyday transport. It already has the green light to spend 3.8 million rand to bolster infrastructure specifically for the World Cup.

South Africa's transport minister said the government plans to widen and restore existing highways and construct new ones, lay rail tracks to link cities and outlying areas, and launch a campaign to discourage car use.

It will also create bicycle and pedestrian paths and improve bus routes in major centres.
Like elsewhere in Africa, South Africa's cities virtually grind to a halt during rush-hour and last week the country's Finance Minister Trevor Manuel described the peak-time commute as "hell."

Some have questioned whether ambitious transit projects will improve life for everyday citizens.
"All of the investment that we want to make on public transportation is not only for 2010 soccer but we want to leave a lasting legacy for the people of this country," Transport Minister Jeff Radebe told reporters at the close of a two-day transport conference in Soweto.

The government has already announced plans to invest about 700 billion rand over the next seven years to revamp the transport and electricity sector and on other major infrastructure projects.

Engineers, urban planners, labour groups, and officials from all tiers of government have backed the strategy, said Radebe.

The government also hopes the new transport strategy will help cut the number of road accidents that result in death and injury by half by 2015.