National Roads Authority paves the way forward

The latest project to be completed by the National Roads Authority was the expansion of Elgin Avenue in George Town with the completion of the Government Administration Building.

Works Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said the aim was to improve traffic flow and public safety. “Improvements are critical if we are to facilitate doing business in central George Town. With so many government and commercial offices, as well as banking facilities in the vicinity, Elgin Avenue already experiences heavy peak hour traffic,” she said.

She noted that many government staffers who work elsewhere will be relocated to the new Elgin Avenue building. “That means that clients who normally visit those satellite offices will have to attend Elgin Avenue. As a result, traffic volume in the area will doubtless increase, again multiplying existing traffic issues,” Ms O’Connor-Connolly said.

NRA Managing Director Brian Tomlinson said that the project involved widening Elgin Avenue from two to three and four lanes in different locations.

A turn lane and a mini roundabout at the intersection with Hospital Road were added. He explained that additional upgrades entailed widening Humber Avenue and reconstructing sidewalks to provide a continuous walkway along Elgin Avenue between Hospital Road and CNB roundabouts.

Drainage improvements will reduce Elgin Avenue’s customary flooding during heavy rainfall.
Most of the roadwork activity took place at night to minimise inconvenience to the public.

Tomlinson said changes to certain roads and intersections in George Town are crucial to allow Cayman’s capital to handle the increasing flow of traffic. “There’s a lot of other things that people would like to see happen, extending the Esterley Tibbetts Highway to West Bay, extending the East-West Arterial,” Mr Tomlinson said earlier this year. “But we really need to go back into town.”

But the funding available for making the road changes is uncertain in the current climate, he said. The long-range transportation plan was drawn up more than a year ago, and through to the end of the current fiscal year – which is June – only one major road construction project is fully funded. The rest of the available cash will have to go for maintenance projects, he said. “The economy hasn’t improved, so I don’t expect any large increase in funding for road construction…,” he said.

Among the George Town road improvements envisioned by the roads authority’s transportation plan are the widening of Bobby Thompson Way between Smith Road and Linford Pierson Highway, making it a five-lane highway and adding a roundabout at the Linford Pierson junction. The authority’s plan also calls for the widening of the Linford Pierson to four lanes from Bobby Thompson and extending the highway down to Walkers Road. “This is very controversial,” Mr. Tomlinson said. “But it’s important for traffic flow in George Town.”

In addition to the Elgin Road widening, planners are looking at the possibility of building a cut-through road from Eastern Avenue where it dead ends at Shedden Road all the way through to Elgin Avenue. The cut through would come out between the Cricket Square complex and the new government building, hopefully continuing on to Smith Road.

The idea here, Mr. Tomlinson said, is to give drivers an alternate route and prevent too much traffic from backing up on the already clogged Shedden Road and Elgin Avenue.

Another change in the George Town area traffic planners would like to make is the elimination of the traffic island at the Smith Road-Crewe Road junction that would allow a roundabout to be placed in that location. “All of those projects would improve traffic flow, and along with traffic flow you get improved safety,” Tomlinson said.

The long-range transportation plans also include the creation of at least three pedestrian walkways on West Bay Road, as well as the creation of some new roundabouts and the lowering of the speed limit for the entire stretch to 30 miles-per-hour.

Relatively new
The National Roads Authority was created on 1 July, 2004, by the National Roads Authority Law to administer, manage, control, develop and maintain the Islands’ public roads and related facilities, such as signals, stormwater facilities, roadway lighting, roadway directional signage and more.

It collects information on the performance of the existing transportation system, forecasts future traffic demand and identifies possible solutions to anticipated issues in system performance and deficiencies.
The NRA will publish a long-term National Roads Plan every four years, to be updated annually. The National Roads Plan, which is a general planning document, will be the provision on which medium to long-term plans for road development will be identified. It also will be used to seek approval for funding of NRP projects that will be implemented according to the objectives of this long-term plan.

A board of directors governs the NRA. Members of the board are appointed by the Governor in Cabinet. The minister responsible for the authority may give general policy directions to the board. The board is then responsible for enacting NRA policy and the general affairs and business of the authority.

Tomlinson oversees daily operations, supported by the deputy director. According to the National Roads Authority Law, the managing director is charged with specifying a three-year public roads development plan that includes construction programmes for new public roads.

This plan complements the NRP by detailing which projects will be done with allocated resources and staff. Within the NRA, the transportation planning unit handles a broad range of short- and long-term planning functions and prioritises needs.

Complementing this is the roads engineering/maintenance and operations unit. Road engineering involves preparing and managing projects and coordination of highway design and construction. Maintenance and operations is responsible for such duties as maintaining roadways, equipment, signs, payment markings, signals and lighting.

The administrative unit manages the human resources of the NRA, handles accounts and manages finances, including purchasing, fee collection and office and computer support.

To finance the authority, government has created a road fund with four categories of revenue. These are:
20 per cent of the duty collected motor gasoline imported into the Islands
16 2/3 per cent of the duty collected upon diesel oil imported into the Islands, excluding diesel used by Caribbean Utilities Company.
100 per cent of the fees paid to the infrastructure fund, as outlined in the Development and Planning Law (2003 Revision).
80 per cent of the fees paid in respect of the registration of motor vehicles under Part II of the Traffic Law (2003 Revision).

According to NRA’s website, the Mission of the National Roads Authority is to contribute to sustainable transport and land development in the Cayman Islands by building and maintaining a safe and efficient network of national roads, in partnership with Cabinet and the private sector, having regard to national and economic growth strategies.

The NRA’s primary function is to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads. It has overall responsibility for the planning and supervision of construction and maintenance of national roads.
In addition, the NRA has a number of specific functions under the National Roads Authority Law 2004, including:

  • Provision of medium to long term plans for road development that makeup a National Roads Plan.
  • Implementation of a management system for planning, organising, directing and controlling routine and periodic maintenance activities performed by employees of the Authority or through independent contractors.
  • Securing the carrying out of construction, improvement and maintenance works on national roads.
  • Carrying out on a permanent basis such necessary engineering traffic and economic studies that it may consider necessary for the maintenance and improvement of public roads.
  • Training, research or testing activities in relation to any of its functions.