The bitumen supply shortage is straining road maintenance in South Africa, and could lead to smaller projects, such as pothole repairs, being deferred to focus on major infrastructure projects, Transport Minister Ben Martins said this week.
The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, as well as the N1 and N2 toll road projects could also be affected by the shortage of bitumen, which is used to produce asphalt for road construction.
Responding to a question by Congress of the People Eastern Cape Member of Parliament Zola Mlenzana, Martins stated that although there were no measures in place to alleviate the local shortage, the department had been engaging with the relevant stakeholders to find a sustainable solution.
“Various members of the Southern African Bitumen Association formed a consortium for importing bitumen and the Department of Transport provided support by recommending the relaxation of import duties on bitumen, while the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) is providing support with the logistics planning requirements to ensure that bitumen received at the ports is cleared with minimum delays,” he indicated.
Martins added that Sanral had also been in talks with the road construction industry to directly import bitumen from abroad.
“The success of this initiative will determine the future direction to be adopted with regard to direct importation of bitumen by the road construction industry,” the Minister said.
Meanwhile, Martins said although delays or shortages in bitumen supply had been identified, his department was not aware of instances where it impacted on the retention of jobs, or the creation thereof.
“The primary reason for the shortages is due to oil companies experiencing unplanned shut downs at the refineries or not having sufficient storage capacity to maintain minimum bitumen reserves during shutdowns,” the Minister pointed out.
Also contributing to the shortage was the fact that oil companies planned their maintenance shutdowns during the peak bitumen consumption periods, which rendered them unable to supply sufficient quantities of South African Bureau of Standards-specified grade bitumen.
Martins said it was also established that bitumen consumers, such as asphalting-producing companies, did not always collect their orders on time from the refineries.