The City of Johannesburg has announced the full closure of the M2 motorway between the Crown interchange and Maraisburg road. The City says it has identified some serious structural defects that could pose a serious danger to the public.

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba and his Transport MMC Nonhlanhla Makhuba announced this at a media briefing on Monday. A section of the bridge in the eastern direction was closed in October 2017 for structure rehabilitation and repair.

The bridge has been cordoned off, but the vehicles on the slab next to it cause a slight tremor.

“The slab on this side and that side, it’s a little bit thinner and we know that when it was done, it was done based on a certain amount of traffic, but the traffic that’s now coming on the M2 compared to the design traffic, it has grown by 400%. So, that’s also contributing to why this also failed quickly because that slab is thin,” says an engineer at the Johannesburg Roads Agency, Thomas Chongo, explaining the extent of the damage to the bridge.

The condition of Selby bridge paints a bleak picture, as Chongo explains, “We are seeing more cracks in the concrete structure as well as the water ingress into the concrete structure, which is weakening both columns and column herds and because of that, it’s not safe to let traffic. The cracks have gotten more because the water is seeping into the actual structure and because of that, it’s weakening the concrete and there’s a chemical reaction that’s happening.”

In 2018, the JRA confirmed that about 94% of bridges in the city were derelict.

Construction began on the M2 after Mashaba had said the highway needed urgent structure rehabilitation and repair.

Just two years ago, a roof collapsed at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg leading to five people sustaining minor injuries. In the same year, a bridge collapsed in Germiston, east of Johannesburg, injuring more than three people.

Earlier in February, the collapse of a walkway at Hoerskool Driehoek led to the death of four learners, with more than 20 others sustaining injuries.

The collapse of the structure prompted more schools to inspect their buildings with the latest being Hoerskool Roodepoort, in the west of Johannesburg, which begs the question of who is accountable for the maintenance of public infrastructure.

The City believes it is doing its part in monitoring the condition of infrastructure.

“The team will give us the extent of the defects and what work will be required to ensure the bridge is in a safe condition again, as well as the expected timeframes. I want to emphasise that the safety of our residents and road users is of paramount importance and we are not willing to take chances with anyone’s lives,” says Member of the Mayor Committee on Transport in Johannesburg Nonhlanhla Makhuba.

The Labour Department says the responsibility of maintaining buildings depends on the circumstances. While its officials conduct regular inspections to ensure that buildings adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, it can only intervene when workers’ lives and health are comprised.

“The Department of Labour has got a legislative framework within which it works, specifically when it comes to inspection and enforcement. One of the pieces of legislation, which is being used is the Occupational Health and Safety Act … it is required that the employer keeps the premises or the workplace in a safe manner for the workers to be able to work within,” says Departmental Spokesperson, Teboho Tejani.

The issue of South Africa’s roads is not only an infrastructure one. Homelessness is seen to be a factor in the condition of these bridges as people without shelter rip it apart to gain access to its interior and make it that their home.

According to Chongo, people even wash their laundry on the bridge and light fires to keep warm.

“There’s a person who’s staying there. So, what they do … because if there’s any water, which is being drained through that apartment, they go and close off everything. So, on top of that apartment, water won’t be draining through the pipes. So, the water will then flow into that soil, the soil which we use to fill at the back. If it washes away that apartment, it weakens that entire structure and that entire structure starts moving or sliding. “

Mashaba has asked residents to be patient while works begins on the M2 bridges. He says it is better to be safe than sorry.

“I’d rather live with the residents wanting to kill me because I closed the road unlike the residents wanting to kill me because a bridge has collapsed. I know it’s a serious inconvenience. I sympathise and I’m worried. Unfortunately, we have to do it. We cannot really take a chance by allowing motorists to continue driving on these roads.”

Construction is expected to begin at 6 am on Thursday next week and the City hopes the bridges will be ready for South African motorists to use by the end of October 2019.

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