R44 Safety Project Underway
In response to the high number of crashes on the R44, particularly the exceptionally high rate of fatal crashes, MEC for Transport, Robin Carlisle, ordered that a survey of the most dangerous stretches be done and action initiated to bring the road into compliance with safety standards.
Since the late 1990's, the road has been subject to a rapid increase in traffic volumes due to new developments and the growth of the tourism industry. Crash statistics from 1999 to 2007 showed 497 casualties, including 49 dead and 103 serious injuries.
The Department of Transport and Public Works has embarked on a project to tighten compliance and increase safety on the R44. The first phase of the project involved analysing the dozens of access roads and median crossings on the route on its most dangerous stretch, between Somerset West and Stellenbosch. Once access roads have been regularized and made safe, the Province will be realigning the current 31 median crossings into a limited number of controlled crossing / u-turn points.
Minister of Transport and Public Works Robin Carlisle said, "After an inspection of the road in May, I was appalled at how dangerous it had become. Numerous illegal routes and median crossings had been created and it was hardly surprising that the R44 had amongst the highest fatalities in the province. I therefore, asked the road engineers for a plan to make the road safer and to eliminate the illegal and dangerous access routes and median crossings. Some of the road works will require public participation which will be advertised as soon as possible."
"In addition to the engineering works, we will have to ensure better visible policing and review the road's speed limits. One of the first remedial measures of the plan was the closure of the illegal access to Mooi Berge farm."
This farm, situated on the corner of Annandale Rd, has three access points, one of which is too close to the intersection to comply with safety standards. Since 1998, the farm owners and the owner of the Mooi Berge Padstal, Mr Dennis Zetler, have been warned several times by authorities about the unsafe access. Removal of the entrance was made a condition of the development of a wine shop on the premises as far back as 2002, and the owners were repeatedly warned about their failure to fulfil the condition, despite going ahead with the work.
In February this year Mr Zetler was given 21 days notice to comply or face closure of the access point by authorities. Mr Zetler, who, according to press reports in Die Burger going back to 1996, has a long history of extreme violence, allegedly attacked three municipal officials attempting to close the unsafe access from the R44 southbound on Friday April 8thAllegedly, two officials from the Cape Winelands District Municipality were punched repeatedly and hit with rocks, while a backhoe driver was struck on the head with a rock.
A case of assault is currently being investigated by the SAPS. Mr Zetler's lawyer stated that Mr Zetler was acting in "counter-spoliation", meaning that he was taking back property that he was previously in illegal possession of, but which he believes was illegally taken from him.
The Province, mindful of the safety of its employees and representatives, is seeking an urgent court order to prevent Mr Zetler from further interfering in the permanent closure of the unsafe access point.
Asked about Mr Zetler's claims that the access could not be closed as it had been used for more than a hundred years, Minister Carlisle commented, "Traffic conditions on the R44 have changed in recent years. Since Mooi Berge has two remaining access point choices, I trust that the issues there can be resolved quickly and without further conflict."