4 July 2006
Cost for access is R160 mln
The face of one KwaZulu- Natal's tourism icons will be irrevocably changed when Sani Pass is tarred by 2009. A public meeting at Sani Pass Hotel yesterday was informed that the project to resurface and re-align the access road and the pass will commence this year and will cost an estimated R160 million.
The consequences are far-reaching as all vehicles, and not only 4x4 vehicles, will be able to traverse one of southern Africa's highest passes and access the eastern highlands of Lesotho.
The project will be undertaken in three phases, with work on the first stage commencing this year.
Funds for the implementation of phase one, a 14-kilometre stretch from the turn-off near Himeville to the ruins of the former Good Hope trading station, have been sourced from the provincial and the national road departments.
"We were told that the budget of R25 million for phase one has been earmarked from the 2006/7 and 2007/8 financial years," said Garth Lumley.
The existing border post will also be relocated to Good Hope where a new facility will be constructed to mark the entry point to the Drakensberg-Maloti Transfrontier Park.
Work on the three phases will be undertaken simultaneously to ensure that time frames are met. Phase two will extend over 11km, from Good Hope to the existing border post, while phase three will see the tarring of the eight-kilometre pass to the summit.
It is understood that the first six kilometres of phase one will be 8,5 metres wide and will designed for a maximum speed of 80 km, while the remainder will handle a 60km maximum speed.
Phase two — seven metres wide — will be designed for a maximum speed of 40 km/h, while the surface of the pass will only handle speeds below 40 km/h.
A project liaison committee has been appointed that will meet on a regular basis to monitor progress on phase one after which its functions and composition will be reviewed.
"The committee is represented by the business community, tourism industry, taxi operators and the agricultural sector that are all affected by the road construction," said Lumley.
Of the stakeholders, the tourism industry and tour operators running trips to the summit will be most affected.
Some tour operators have forseen the changes and are increasingly diversifying their operations, including Thaba Tours.
"We've known about the proposed resurfacing and have actively sought new opportunities in Lesotho where, after all, the pass is heading," said Ray Watt of Thaba Tours.
It is understood the motivation behind the tarred access is driven by the need to develop tourism in Lesotho and the need to upgrade vehiclular access tothe eastern highlands of the landlocked kingdom.
"The viability of the transfrontier park depends on year-round access to as many vehicles as possible and tarring Sani Pass clearly makes sense in this respect," said Watt. — Own Correspondent.
The Witness - 23 June 2006