By Christopher Tobutt
Cayman’s traffic seems to be a perennial problem; the growing population and growing economy means more and more cars and trucks and busses on the roads, and that means more congestion, sometimes even nightmare two-hour holdups to go just a few miles into George Town. Each time there is an improvement, things get better, for a while at least. But lots of road widening, extending (arterial roads growing from two to three lanes either way, and bigger, three-lane roundabouts in many places) as well as entire new connector-roads, that have been several years in the planning, land-purchasing, and preparation stages, paint the picture of an evolving comprehensive transport strategy. It isn’t all just about accommodating new cars though, and the new picture includes what the NRA is calling ‘Compete Streets Methodology,’ meaning that the plan incorporates safe sidewalks for pedestrians, new crossings, cycle-lanes as well as a big outside-the-box rethink involving electric vehicles and shuttle busses for crowded town centres.
More than CI$30 million has been budgeted for the new improvements, according to Infrastructure Minister, Hon Joey Hew, and members of the media were invited to see the improvements in a big two-coach outing, with ministers including Infrastructure Minister Hon Joey Hew, Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin, and Finance Minister Hon Roy McTaggart, along with top NRA officials.
The first stop was the site of the long-awaited extension to the Rex Crighton Boulevard (formerly the East West Arterial), the first phase of which will reach to the subdivision known as Woodlands. Currently the highway, which was begun in 2007, finishes abruptly at Hirst Road, But the plan has always been to make a road that takes the traffic not only from the Lookout Gardens area of Bodden Town (the aim of Phase Two) but ultimately all the way through to Frank Sound, enabling motorists to drive from the heart of the Eastern Districts all the way to George Town without having to go onto the over-congested Shamrock Road. However, the National Conservation Council has raised hydrological concerns which have delayed progress, Minister Hew said. “We have been working with the National Conservation Council and we are very optimistic that we will be able to work with them, and continue the road into the Lookout Gardens area of Bodden Town. This is a matter of national importance for us, it’s extremely critical, as it involves relieving some of the stress to persons in the East End district,” he added, “but at the same time we want to be as environmentally sensitive as possible. However we can’t delay this for years.” he said. Minister Hew believes that the Conservation Council’s concerns over the flow of water are able to be mitigated with the deployment of culverts and channels for the flow of water.
When the new road, which at this stage consists of clearance, levelling-out, and installation of drainage, utilities and compacting the base and sub-base and clearing less than a two-mile, 130 foot wide stretch reaches Woodlands, there will be two main roads, branching off from a roundabout, one heading south into Shamrock Road to Breadfruit Drive, and the other heading north into all the development of Newlands. The NRA will develop a new roundabout at Hirst Road as well as an intersection at Shamrock Road which will allow motorists from the east to easily access the highway as well as commuters from the Newlands area to have an easy and efficient travel. “Right now its two lanes, one heading east and one heading west, but we do have space for expansion. But the real focus now is to be able to take it all the way from here, all the way out to the Lookout Gardens,” Minister Hew said.
Grand Harbour Connector Road.
The next stop was at the end of the clearing which will soon be the Grand Harbour Connector Road, which takes traffic off from the CUC roundabout at the Kings Sports Centre roundabout up into Grand Harbour, where there are so many new homes being built. “Part of the problem is the CUC roundabout doesn’t have the capacity, because that is where everything is coming into, so we have to expand that, especially with the three lanes coming down from the east,” explained the NRA’s Tristan Hydes. “The intention is really to link all the way through, and take it all the way across Red Bay and up to Admiral’s Landing. Then the shamrock road will become a ‘real highway,’ so to speak, for people coming from the east. So this new connector can be the local road, for busses to drop of nannies in the area. Right now they are talking about building an overpass for pedestrians only over the 6 lane highway over there, out by Grand Harbour roundabout, and that is very expensive. So this road will have sidewalks, it will have bike lanes so pedestrians can actually use this all the way up. Its much safer,” he said.