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The City of Cape Town’s Urban Mobility Directorate is piloting underground chambers for the safe storage of traffic signal controllers and uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems at intersections prone to vandalism and theft. Two chambers – also referred to as prefabricated underground utility manholes – have been installed at an intersection in Belhar.

‘The prefabricated chambers are installed a few meters underground and attached to a concrete base. The traffic signal controllers and UPS system are stored inside the chamber which is then sealed with a coded mechanical locking system. The chamber is non-metallic and ribbed for strength and has no resale value. Given that it is underground, attached to concrete, and can only be opened by trained technicians, we trust that this new innovation will be the solution to the ongoing theft and vandalism of expensive City equipment at hotpot intersections,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Urban Mobility, Councillor Rob Quintas.

The first installation took place at a hotspot intersection in Belhar, and if proven to be successful, more underground chambers will be installed at other intersections in the coming months.

‘Currently, our traffic signal equipment is stored above ground which makes it an easy target for thieves and vandals. Also, the equipment often gets damaged during crashes. Should this pilot initiative work, the City could save millions in stolen and damaged equipment. It will also allow our staff to focus on preventative maintenance and road users will benefit as this new innovation could ensure that we keep traffic signals in working order,’ said Councillor Quintas.

The installation of underground chambers is no easy task. First off, the cables have to be refitted and placed underground. It also requires digging of a sizable hole for the fitting of the chamber and concrete base, and then the refilling of the hole.

The prefabricated underground utility manhole is a South African invention, locally designed and manufactured.

Traffic signal cables, controllers, electronic components and UPS units, including the batteries, are most susceptible to theft and vandalism.

‘The replacement cost of one traffic signal controller varies between R70 000 and R150 000, depending on the size and complexity of the intersection. A new UPS unit, inclusive of the batteries, costs approximately R50 000. In the past financial year alone we spent just over R2 million on replacing and repairing stolen and vandalised traffic signal equipment.

‘I am impressed by this innovation and appreciate the research that has gone into this pilot project. Still, it remains disheartening that the City must go to these lengths to protect infrastructure. I want to call on the public to please report vandalism and theft to the City, and to let us know when they are witnessing these crimes. Every cent we use to replace stolen equipment could have been used for service delivery instead,’ said Councillor Quintas.