Life for the people living in the north of the uMngeni River in South Africa has been transformed.

The creation of a new road crossing the river and making its way up Durban’s KwaDabeka Valley has stimulated economic prosperity and social empowerment in South Africa where the government is committed to alleviating the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Royal HaskoningDHV played an integral part in the planning, design and engineering of Main Road P577 and now the project, commissioned by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport, has won the technical excellence prize in the 2017 South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) regional awards.

Here’s a look at how Main Road P577 became a reality, attesting to the transformative power of infrastructure to enhance our society.

The need for a new road

Following the dramatic growth of population in the Durban communities of Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu during the 1980s and 90s, access to jobs and commercial activity in the surrounding area became critical.

However, north-south transportation in Durban was constrained by the uMngeni River, as it only had four main crossings - the M4, M12, R102 and the N2. A blockage on any one of these corridors would lead to congestion throughout the city.

There needed to be a solution and The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport commissioned the design of a new road. It would act as a link between residential areas to the north of the uMngeni River and economic opportunities to the south.

Royal HaskoningDHV was involved at an early stage in the road’s development and our collaborative partnership has delivered an innovative solution which supports the national priority of triggering economic and social prosperity.

Collaborative partnership

Given the scale and complexity of the project, the team at Royal HaskoningDHV recognized at the outset the importance of collaborative partnership and it is this approach which has helped to overcome the various challenges along the way.

The KwaDabeka Valley was the most challenging portion of the Main Road P577 project as the road had to climb at average grade of 6.2%, along the KwaDabeka tributary to the uMngeni River, and then into New Germany.

The geotechnical challenges faced by the design and construction teams tested their ingenuity as solutions had to be found to ensure the stability of the rock face. Conditions varied continuously and it was not possible to apply a single solution to rock retention. For example, a rock fall trap zone had to be incorporated in the design at the base of the cut slope adjacent to and below the road level. Draping of steep rock and boulder outcrops with steel mesh was designed to control the downslope movement of boulders – particularly to protect construction personnel.

By 2013, a new requirement was in place where P577 needs to accommodate Durban’s eThekwini Transport Authority’s Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT). It was clear to the team that it would be a complex process to retrofit a BRT component and hence the team swiftly embarked on the process of stakeholder engagement so as to align the interests of the two projects rapidly.

Throughout the project, special care was given to safeguard the environment. From the relocation of indigenous trees to the recording and reinstatement of the riverine environment, the team undertook numerous audits to ensure the integrity of the ecosystem and at the same time, preserve the natural beauty of the road setting.

In the case of Main Road 577 the construction is complemented by the natural characteristics of a steep rugged valley. The curvilinear nature of the alignment returns the favour and the road takes on the appearance of an alpine highway.

Safeguarding social and economic development

The vision of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport was to give access to employment and economic opportunities in the area. The team at RHDHV is proud to have been a part of this journey making Main Road P577 a reality. Highlights of this project include:

  • Ease traffic congestion and delays: The road now saves travellers up to 12km in distance and has drastically eased the flow of traffic
  • Create employment: The entire project spans a period of 14 years which was divided up into 5 key phases. Just on the KwaDabeka phase of the project alone, over 600 people from the local community were employed and 10 local sub-contractors were appointed during the project.
  • Develop skill sets: A training centre was set up with the Department of Transport and Project Liaison Committee (PLC) to provide construction related skills training
  • Enhance community engagement: A community engagement programme enabled schoolchildren and teachers to learn about the project

The Main Road P577 will make a huge difference to the lives of communities in this area of South Africa. At RHDHV, we are proud to be part of the team making the difference to shape the future of social and economic prosperity for South Africa.