The state is pumping R900-million into the last link on the N2 to create a speedy link between East London, Bhisho and Port Elizabeth.
It is also spending R222-million to build roads linking villages around Port St Johns to Silimela hospital.
The more than R1-billion in roads programmes will bring much needed job opportunities to rural areas.
In the first N2 project only one stretch of road that is still winding, narrow and treacherous remains between the province’s two metros.
By 2021, six years from now, the aged N2 from the eastern edge of the Fish River cuttings just beyond Peddie up the escarpment to Grahamstown will be transformed, becoming part of the wider single-lane road, with double lanes when needed, and freeway connecting the two metro coastal cities and the provincial capital, said Sanral southern region project manager Steven Robertson.
The project, which is divided into three phases, will see rural communities living along the route being trained and employed, he said.
Yesterday scores of villagers from around Poprt St Johns also celebrated as Eastern Cape public works MEC Thandiswa Marawu turned the first sod in the second phase of a three-year, R222-million project to build roads.
Grahamstown Business Forum vice-chairman Richard Gaybba yesterday said 360 new jobs created during the N2 construction would benefit the area, but he wished the city’s broken roads, and smaller roads linking Grahamstown to Port Alfred and Bedford, could be repaired too.
“Any investment is welcome. The upgrade will provide jobs which in turn will filter into the economy.
“I do question the real long-term benefit though. The N2 bypasses the town itself and I doubt whether road users will actually take the time to detour into town.”
He felt the upgrade would be of greater benefit to the metros.
“Our hope is that any contracts awarded benefit local businesses. The challenge for us is to keep the R900-million in the local economy.”
Robertson said the long-term goal was to improve roads between Grahamstown and King Williams Town too, but the upgraded N2 would boost economic links between East London and Port Elizabeth.
He said traffic flow over mountainous areas would be improved with an extra climbing lane. Cars would no longer get stuck behind trucks grinding up the cuttings, improved visibility would reduce road accidents, fuel use, travel time, operating costs and carbon emissions.
An increase in traffic volumes, particularly heavy vehicles, over the past 10 years had prompted the road upgrade and Sanral was preparing for “increased traffic volumes over the next 25 years”.
Sanral was going to have to blast and remove large quantities of rock.
“At the Fish River pass, a special bypass is being constructed to allow the existing road to be widened.”
Rare vegetation, such as the leathery and gnarled Oldenburgia grandis tree which only grows on quartzite rock outcrops, would be removed and replanted by a project run by a Rhodes botany post-graduate student.
At Thombo village near Port St Johns yesterday, scores of villagers from Gomolo administrative area gathered to witness Marawu launch a R222-million phase two road rehabilitation project linking villages to Silimela hospital. Phase one, started last year, was due for completion by September, including two bridges that cost R98-million in total.
Nothandekile Somdetsha, 47, said the 17km stretch from her home in Masameni village to the hospital in the back of an overloaded bakkie took an hour. She suffers from arthritis and has to make regular trips for medication. “I hate that ride more than anything,” she told the Dispatch yesterday. “One person died on the way two years ago. It is so difficult for women in labour.”
Ndevu principal Nompucuko Nombewu said: “People are reluctant to ferry our children because of the roads around here.” She could not remember how many times her tyre had burst “this year alone”.
Port St Johns mayor Phikolomzi Langa said the tarred road would have major economic spin-offs, not only for tourism but the hospital could now attract highly-skilled staff.
Marawu said roads leading to rural hospitals near Ntabankulu, Mount Frere and Coffee Bay had been resurfaced and work was under way on the road to Madwaleni Hospital in Elliotdale.