By Staff Writer
A series of large-scale road projects are underway as efforts continue to ease Cayman’s chronic road congestion problem.
But striking the right balance between transport connectivity and minimising the impact on Cayman’s delicate environment remains a persistent and major hurdle for policymakers, engineers, the public and campaigners.
Meetings are being held this week to gauge public feedback on one of those projects, the East-West Arterial Extension.
The National Roads Authority(NRA) justifies the project by stating that the project will reduce travel times to and from George Town for East End, North Side and Bodden Town residents, and will assist in the promotion and implementation of sustainable public transportation (dedicated bus lanes).
It will serve as a major horizontal conveyance and treatment for future stormwater management systems. It will also enhance access to tourist destinations and will also serve as an emergency route when coastal roads are compromised and preserve connectivity between population centres.
However, one of the main objections to this project is its environmental impact, a major concern for the organisation Sustainable Cayman.
It cites the likely effect on the Central Mangrove Wetland, described as “essentially part of our Critical National Infrastructure given the ecosystem services it provides”.
Sustainable Cayman argues that “undermining it would also go against multi-national policy agreements and our own Constitution to protect our environment.”
The NRA says it is mindful of this concern.
“The NRA recognizes the need for this project but is also aware of environmental concerns (e.g. protection of the Central Mangrove Wetland) and is committed to identifying and developing engineering solutions that will minimize unavoidable impacts. Since climate change and sea level rise are a very real concern, NRA recognizes the need for an alternative corridor to the current coastal road which is vulnerable to severe storms and coastal flooding.”
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Meanwhile, Sustainable Cayman says it has obtained a report which highlights a range of issues surrounding the planned East-West Arterial (EWA) extension.
That report offering the personal perspective of a Divisional Director with the UK firm Ardent Consulting Engineers (ACE) claims that “the effect of infrastructure improvements taking place on existing highway corridors (i.e. Bobby Thompson Way and Shamrock Road) would be far greater than those which could be achieved by the EWA Extension. “It would therefore seem beneficial to prioritise those infrastructure projects that rely on the existing roads, rather than through the creation of new roads, with the environmental implications that this would entail,” he suggests.
Engineer and report author, Kevin Kay, also concludes that “the case for the EWA Extension is therefore unfounded on the grounds of providing vehicular traffic benefits alone.”
Critically, the report also indicates that a 2018 study highlighted the risk that the Government’s economic growth priorities may be contributing to further habitat loss in Grand Cayman.
“The demand for real estate by international investors initially attracted by the island’s financial services, along with that of the professionals employed to provide these services, has been one of the key drivers of mangrove wetland clearance.”
It goes on to state that: “Interview results suggest the hypothesis that these dynamics have persisted due to the alignment of political forces that has emerged in their defense: a state structurally dependent on development fees for revenues and dependent for political support on landowners and the development and real estate industries.”
In his report - obtained by Sustainable Cayman - engineer Kevin Kay notes that “while the above statement strays into the political sphere, it would appear to be the case that the rationale for the EWA Extension is partly driven by a need to improve the accessibility to land for development, more than it would be about meeting some marginal journey time savings from populations located furthest away from the (employment) poles of attraction.”
It also says: “As one of the objectives of the East-West Arterial Extension is to provide additional highway capacity to meet East-West demand, other improvements could be made to increase the number of other East-West road corridors.”
The NRA is meanwhile inviting public input into the rationale and engineering plans for this and other road network projects.
(Images credited to NRA)
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