The N3 National route runs between the inland City of Johannesburg in Gauteng and the coastal resort of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal respectively South Africa's largest and second-largest cities. Johannesburg is the financial and commercial heartland of South Africa, while Durban is South Africa's key port and one of the busiest ports in the Southern Hemisphere and is also a holiday destination. Durban is the port through which Johannesburg imports and exports most of its goods.
The route is approximately 560 km long and is one of South Africa's busiest routes with a high volume of traffic.
The N3 is divided into 12 sections, starting with section 1 in Durban and ending with section 12 in Johannesburg. Between the two cities, the route passes the following towns and cities: Heidelberg, Villiers, Warden, Harrismith, Van Reenen, Ladysmith, Estcourt, Mooi River, Howick, and Pietermaritzburg. It no longer passes through any of these towns, as bypasses have been built around all of them.
From Johannesburg, the route officially starts at the Buccleuch Interchange which is the point at which the N3, N1, and M1 motorways converge. After winding its way down the eastern side of Johannesburg as part of the city's N3 Eastern Bypass, it then moves away from the city down towards Heidelberg. Further along, the route passes through the small town of Harrismith along a bypass in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountain range. From there, it takes its most dramatic drop down through Van Reenen Pass into the rolling hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The route becomes rather picturesque as it continues on its journey down to Durban, passing through dairy farmland around Mooi River, and the Midmar Dam near Howick. At Pietermaritzburg, the road makes another dramatic drop down into the city as it passes Town Hill, along the city's bypass. From there, the road makes an 80 kilometre line for the coast, passing into Durban through the outskirts of Pinetown and Westville. Connecting with the N2 Durban Ring Road at the Westville Four-Level Interchange, the road then spills into the Durban Central Business District at its end.
Where the N3 has been realigned, the old route has been designated R103. The R103 exists in three sections: between Durban and Ladysmith, between Warden and Villiers, and between Heidelberg and Johannesburg. The R103 is typically used to avoid the toll plazas on the N3, with one notable exception being the Tugela East Toll Plaza located on the R103 itself where the R103 and N3 meet north of Ladysmith. Most of the old N3 alignment within Durban is designated as the M13 instead of having the usual R103 designation; the R103 diverges from the M13 in the suburb of Winston Park.
Dual carriageway sections
Following the opening of the motorway section in December 2001 between Heidelberg and Villiers, the road is now dual carriageway for its whole length between the two cities. The section between Johannesburg and Villiers is dual carriageway motorway. Between Villiers and the outskirts of Ladysmith, the road is undivided dual carriageway. Thereafter, the route to Durban is dual carriageway motorway. This last section is the second longest motorway by route number, but the longest on one stretch of road in South Africa. A section of the N3 in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, showing the dual carriageway.  Future realignment There are plans to re-route one section between the Tugela Toll Plaza near Ladysmith, and the start of the tolled section near Warden. This would involve the diversion of the road to a new motorway over De Beer's Pass, as opposed to Van Reenen, which would cut 14 kilometres off the route. This has caused a huge outcry among residents of Harrismith and Van Reenen, who rely on passing traffic to sustain businesses such as restaurants, petrol stations, and holiday rest places. Proponents of the new road argue that the existing Van Reenen Pass is too steep for heavy trucks and exceeds the maximum gradient of 1:7 for an officially declared national road. The N3 Toll Concession has stated that the De Beer's bypass will be required when daily traffic volumes reach 13,900 vehicles - the current traffic volume at Van Reenen is 11,000 vehicles, and based on projected increases in traffic volumes, the bypass will need to be operational by the end of 2014, with construction commencing in the second half of 2011.
Most of the road is only usable upon the payment of toll. There are toll plazas at Marianhill, Mooiriver, Tugela, Villiers and Heidelberg. As mentioned above, most of the toll plazas can be avoided by using the R103. A sixth toll plaza is likely to be constructed south of Warden when the De Beer's bypass (mentioned above) is built.
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