2007 top stories: Making headway on roadways

Road issues were high on the list for 2007 news, with the continued improvements to the Esterly Tibbetts bypass alleviating much of the traffic snarls West Bay Road had been experiencing.

While still not complete, the bypass offers up a few unpaved sections still posing a driving hazard to the uninitiated, with drives still subject to unexpected lumps of hardened asphalt as well as the sudden appearance of unpaved sections several inches lower than the paved parts.

Not so for the new East-West Arterial road, which has sprung up in what seems mere months, between Shamrock Road in Prospect and Hirst Road in Savannah.

Peter Ogden, Engineer Major Projects for the National Roads Authority says land clearance for the road started on the Government land at Prospect Primary School in September 2006.

Cutting a 3¼ mile swath through a newly accessible section of southern Grand Cayman, the new road offers residents a new vista of their island.

Large undeveloped sections of land on either side of the road and several bodies of water are home to a variety of water birds, as well the indigenous terrapin (turtle) called the hickatee, as well as tarpon and snook fish beneath the surface.

The East-West Arterial was no easy task to complete, especially in such a quick timeframe. Mr. Ogden says one of the special challenges for road construction on an island like Cayman includes the expeditious supply of specialized heavy equipment spare parts, not only for the NRA, but for the quarries, rental equipment operators, and truck owners. However, the NRA team was able to successfully overcome these obstacles.

With regard to some of the literal twists and turns drivers encounter, Mr. Ogden says the road’s route had been fixed for several years.

Certainly, going around the swamps was not an option, and the challenge had to be faced head-on.

‘The biggest challenge on this project was moving the wet peat to the side of the 120-foot wide road between the Shamrock Roundabout and Durty Reids,’ says Mr. Ogden.

‘Going in, we expected the swamp to be three feet deep and it turned out to be six feet deep. However, the peat is mostly water and now that it is drying out, it doesn’t look much of a problem to deal with.’

Mr. Ogden says in addition, quite a lot of fill was required to complete the project.

‘The blasted rock to fill the swamps, the three inches of rock for the embankments, and the six-inch thick road base totalled 600,000 cubic yards, nearly 1million tons, and it took from December 2006 until November 2007 to put everything in place,’ he says.

‘Pouring hot mix asphalt started on 25th October and was finished on 5 December 2007, but while this was happening, the crew had the opportunity to work on several other smaller projects during the same period.’

While at present the road comes to an abrupt halt at Hirst Road, Mr. Ogden says the options for connecting Hirst Road to the main highway are still under consideration in the design of the next phase of the project, which extends to Northward.

Additional provisions are also in the works.

‘The project has been extended to include at least four lanes through to Silver Oaks Roundabout, another 2/3 miles,’ he says.

‘There will be an extra 5th lane from the east exit of Grand Harbour, to the Red Bay Esso Gas Station.’

Drivers will surely notice a large area under construction west of Shamrock Road, which is anticipated to be completed in February 2008. And work on an extra west-bound lane opposite the Lions Centre starts in January 2008.

Mr. Ogden says the cost of the project is spread over consultants’ design fees, purchase of land, NRA construction costs, and compensation costs, spanning two or three annual budgets and three different phases of construction.

The construction of the road has also had a momentous impact on a well-loved Cayman landmark. In August, the Red Bay Plaza was demolished to make way for the new road, and along with it was storied watering hole Durty Reid’s.

Long a local hangout, the place had a lot of memories for owner Durty Reid Dennis and the thousands of patrons who crossed its threshold.

After a few rumours had hit the streets about possible relocation sites, it was announced in September the restaurant had signed a two-year lease at Pedro St. James in Savannah.