• Drew Wilson


If it feels like Umhlanga Ridge shot up overnight, wait and see how quickly the plans for Cornubia unfold! The new Cornubia Mall opened earlier this year and just a few weeks ago the R300 million Cornubia interchange was completed adding a vital piece to the puzzle. A new link bridge and interchange has given Cornubia residents access to main routes, provided a dedicated link into the heart of Umhlanga and opened up opportunities for the Greater Cornubia Development project currently in the pipeline.

Cornubia interchange under construction, Umhlanga.

The Cornubia interchange project is more than just an interchange, it’s a significant key to unlocking another untapped precinct on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal - and I’m delighted to have been part of it. The Greater Cornubia Development will see approximately R24 billion invested in roads, bridges and service infrastructure, housing built for 100,000 people, and more than 48,000 new permanent jobs created. It will also provide more than 15,000 construction jobs over a 15 year period and countless training, development and community enhancement opportunities as spin-offs.

The big picture

The Cornubia interchange was constructed as three separate bridges and ‘stitched together’ in the middle. You only had to drive under the labyrinth of temporary works beams and girders during the construction to see the enormity of the task. The construction itself was an incredible undertaking, all completed 15 metres above the busy N2 freeway without impacting the number of lanes or flow of traffic. It really is incredible to think early designs of the scheme by Royal HaskoningDHV (formerly BCP Engineers) date back to 1998!

Cornubia interchange under construction, Umhlanga.

At its widest part, the bridge is 50 metres to accommodate eight lanes of traffic – two dedicated bus lanes or ‘right of way’ lanes, two offramp lanes onto the N2 and four mixed-use lanes. The bridge is founded on almost 200 concrete augered piles, which together measure an impressive four kilometres in length. These piles had to be driven much deeper into the ground than first expected but are essential to support the two massive curved abutment walls either side of the N2 freeway.

The team I was working with was appointed to project manage the construction phase, which meant we were responsible for everything from delay claims, scope changes and variations to scheduling and sequencing of construction activities. On average there were 300 labourers on site throughout the project so any changes required clear communication, confident leadership and complete transparency between the consultant, contractor and client. Despite numerous challenges, variations and unforeseen circumstances, the project team was united with a shared goal to complete the project successfully.

Cornubia interchange under construction, Umhlanga.

Cherry on top

Often it’s overcoming of the technical challenges that gets engineers excited, however my favourite aspect of this project was coordinating the SMME programme because we focused on what would make the biggest social impact.

We supported the client’s Sustainability, Social Innovative Programme (SSIP), and together with community leaders and volunteers from Engineers Without Borders, offered local SMMEs help with their business plans by providing training and mentorship. More sustainable than simply providing employment, this ensured these professionals would be able to secure future work – without us.

Cornubia interchange under construction, Umhlanga.

We offered in-house courses for local SMME business owners covering the technical aspects of the project, hosted multiple educational tour groups for industry professionals and scholars, and ran a comprehensive classroom and onsite training programme for local labourers. For the duration of the project we also employed two full-time and multiple part-time students for their vocational work experience. One of the full-time students was able to use his experience on the project to complete his degree with flying colours, something he had been unable to achieve because of a lack of funding.

Lastly, locals told us about a lack of plumbing skills so we invited 25 local plumbers to take advantage of formal training to help them gain the skills needed to meet the community’s needs. In the end, we spent close to R2 million on skills development and almost R50 million with local SMMEs, suppliers and subcontractors. This was a project that put into practice what so many others just preach!

Certificate ceremony for local plumbers' training - a Cornubia interchange community initiative, Umhlanga.

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Client: eThekwini Municipality (Go Durban)

Budget: R300 million

Key features: Eight traffic lanes constructed from three ‘stitched together’ bridges built 15 metres above the N2 freeway

Duration: 34 months

Location: Umhlanga, KwaZulu Natal

Project team: Royal HaskoningDHV (consultant) and CMC Ravenna (contractor)

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