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Wednesday May 30, 2012

Joburg's landmark bridges in sad state

Joburg's bridges may not be falling down, as the old nursery rhyme suggests is happening in 1890s London, but they are in a sad state. The city has budgeted R104 million for repairs over the next three years.

People walk along the other side of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

The Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth bridges run over the purple trains into Braamfontein.

Although the bridges have only recently been revamped, both have become neglected and dangerous.

On Queen Elizabeth Bridge, if you walk away from the Joburg CBD, you will notice the right-hand side is clean, spacious, hosts street vendors, and even some minimalist art work is displayed there.

But the left-hand side tells a different story - it is a dangerous path of dirt and debris.

The red-and-white striped steel barriers are buckled. Piles of garbage and mountains of dry, cut grass line the pavement. Weeds grow in the damp gutters and uproot the cement pavement.

Some of the plants have grown knee-high and spill out onto the tarmac.

Vandalised sections of the Nelson Mandela Bridge.

As you continue towards Braamfontein, the path narrows until you find yourself ankle-deep in garbage and broken glass.

Eventually the path becomes so narrow that you are only centimetres away from cars racing around the corner.

At this point, most people will cross the busy road, clamber over the steel barriers and dodge traffic.

Student Frank Ditole, 24, was one such person.

"It's not safe. Apart from getting hit by cars when you try to cross, a lot of tsotsis hang out on this bridge," he said.

"Once I was robbed of my cellphone at 5pm - in broad daylight," said Ditole. Harry Makwela agreed. "It is not safe here. Eventually, the path becomes too narrow and dirty, and you have to cross the road."

He lifted his trousers to reveal scars down his left leg.

"A car drove over my leg last year," he said.

Dubbed "Mug-della bridge" by students because of the high incidence of robberies there, the newer Nelson Mandela Bridge is not much better.

Zakes Ngema said it was not safe - day or night.

"There are many criminals around here. People get robbed every day," he said.

Along the pavement, wires are exposed after large chunks of the hand rails were scavenged for aluminium to be sold to scrapyard dealers.

City of Johannesburg spokesman Gabu Tugwana said: "The bridge area is managed by different business units in the City (Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA), City Parks and Pikitup). Your complainant may have been in the area before our units took their frequent rounds of clearing the walking space and collecting garbage."

He said they were aware of the damaged steel barriers on the Queen Elizabeth Bridge and the stolen railings on the Nelson Mandela Bridge.

"It's not easy to fix overnight. We have to contact the insurance company and then order stock."

Regarding safety, Tugwana said security guards had been assigned to patrol the area and manage pedestrian traffic.

He said they worked ''well into the night''.

JRA spokesman Thulani Makhubela said the doubledecker M1 bridge over Newtown would also be fixed and would be among many bridges that would be rehabilitated.

Makhubela said rehabilitation ranged from increasing stormwater drainage capacity to fixing of handrails.

He said bridge specialists inspected the bridges regularly and would then recommend any necessary changes and maintenance needs.

The Star

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