Protea North, Naledi communities welcome new bridge

The Protea North-Naledi BridgeThe new bridge provides a safe, convenient railway crossing for the Protea North and Naledi communities. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)

The opening of the Protea North-Naledi Bridge has brought huge relief to two Soweto communities who, despite living a stone's throw apart, are separated by a railway line with - up until now - no bridge for at least three kilometres.

Executive Mayor Parks Tau cuts the ribbonExecutive Mayor Parks Tau, accompanied by Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi, cuts the ribbon to officially open the new bridge. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi)The R65-million vehicle and pedestrian bridge, which forms part of the City of Joburg's Corridors of Freedom programme, was officially opened by Executive Mayor Parks Tau on Tuesday, 31 May.

Speaking at the opening, Mayor Tau said the new bridge would both improve safety and further the economic development of the two communities. "This project shows what we can accomplish when all of our communities work together to improve the lives of their residents," he said.

Transport MMC Christine Walters, also speaking at the opening, said the new bridge would make a big difference to the quality of life of the Naledi and Protea North communities.

'I never thought I would live to see this day'

Elizabeth MashatuleElizabeth Mashatule (wearing hat) and friend take a leisurely stroll across their new bridge. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi)Both communities had approached the City in 2007 after the deaths of several people attempting to cross the railway line, MMC Walters said. "This new bridge will help this part of Soweto tremendously, and we are really proud that we've finally completed it."

The bridge comes with plenty of lighting, along with wide side-walks, generous emergency lanes and raised barriers on both sides.

"I never thought I would live to see this day," said 63-year-old Maria Zwane, one of many residents who gathered to witness the opening. "I have got many relatives who stay the other side of the railways whom I visit often."

Zwane knows a number of families who have lost their loved ones on the railway lines separating the two suburbs. Her greatest fear, she said, was for the children used to dice with death every day by crossing the lines to get to school on the other side.

Another community member, Elizabeth Mashatule, who was taking her first walk across the bridge with a friend, said it was "an interesting thing to look at from any angle; and then the walkways being as wide as they are, it's just really fun to be taking a stroll over the bridge."

Comprehensive road infrastructure upgrade programme

The bridge comes with plenty of safety featuresThe bridge comes with plenty of lighting, along with wide side-walks, generous emergency lanes and raised barriers on both sides. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi)The new bridge is part of a comprehensive programme launched by the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) to revitalise road and storm-water infrastructure across Johannesburg.

The city has 814 bridges with a combined asset value of more than R15-billion, and a thorough audit recently conducted by the JRA showed that many of these bridges require extensive rehabilitation, as well as the addition of various features to bring them in line with modern engineering and safety trends.

The JRA's intensive "bridges programme", currently under way, includes the rehabilitation of the Oxford, Federation and Double Decker bridges on the M1 freeway.

Other areas of Soweto are also benefiting from the heightened road construction activities, which form part of the City's 10-year, R100-billion investment in infrastructure.

These include the upgrading and surfacing of gravel roads in Doornkop and Thulani, along with related infrastructure such as the conversion of the area's open storm-water drains into an underground system.

In addition, a number of low-lying bridges in Soweto, including the Nxumalo, Kinini-Leselinyana and Zulu-Mahalefele bridges, have been raised above the flood-line in order to give communities and their infrastructure better protection during the rainy season.

As part of this process, local subcontractors are being given work packages to assist the JRA, and local people are increasingly being employed to do the work, contributing to job creation and skills transfers in the community.