A section of West Bay Road from Governors Way to Raleigh Quay Drive beside the old Courtyard Marriott hotel could be closed in the next week, Cayman Islands government ministers said.
The work is to enable the expansion and enhancement work to the public beach on Seven Mile Beach in time for the traditional Easter beach camping and the upcoming NORCECA beach volleyball tournament and to facilitate the development on Dart’s new hotel on the old Courtyard Marriott site, ministers told the media at the weekly Cabinet press briefing Thursday, 14 February.
Cabinet Minister Mark Scotland also revealed during the conference that earlier announced plans to create a public beach in the area of Victoria House on Seven Mile Beach had been abandoned in favour of creating a public beach at Barkers in West Bay and expanding Smith Cove on South Church Street.
He said the new public beach land, which would transfer from Dart to Crown land, is far larger than the acreage originally planned on Seven Mile Beach, which was about 72 feet in length, as compared to 700 feet of beach at Barkers and 2.5 acres of land immediately north of Smith Cove.
The road closure means traffic will have to divert from West Bay Road at Governors Way or at the junction of the old Courtyard Marriott, which Dart has bought and is developing as a new hotel, to the Esterley Tibbetts Highway.
Government minister Cline Glidden said with the expansion of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, the speed limit along West Bay Road would be reduced to 30 miles per hour, once draft legislation is finalised and approved. At the moment, both roads have a 40 mph speed limit.
West Bay Road, with its many hotels, bars, condominiums and restaurants, is heavily used by pedestrian tourists. Last week, a Canadian tourist was struck by a car as he crossed the road and later died on Wednesday.
Mr. Glidden said the speed reduction would “reduce the amount of traffic on West Bay Road and that hopefully will make it a much safer environment for the many pedestrians using West Bay Road with the heavier and greater amount of traffic using the Esterley Tibbetts Highway”.
Amendments to a National Roads Authority agreement, that forms part of the ForCayman Investment Alliance deal between Dart and government, also include the provision for land and road access for a new facility for the Sunrise Adult Training Centre. “A site for that was secured and identified in the second amendment [to the NRA agreement],” Mr. Scotland said.
Deputy Premier Rolston Anglin explained that the Sunrise Adult Training Centre in West Bay has been under-resourced for years and a new facility is urgently needed.
Land in West Bay had also been identified for additional school facilities and a new or expanded police station in the district, the ministers said.
Although Minister Scotland insisted that an independent PricewaterhouseCoopers report into the NRA agreement showed it provided value for money, amendments were subsequently made to the agreement which the accountancy firm is examining. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ final report, including its analysis of the new amendments, is expected to be handed to government on 8 March and would be made public, the ministers said.
Cabinet has already discussed and informally approved the closure of the relevant section of West Bay Road, but the gazetting of the road closure will need to be signed by Cabinet members and published in the Cayman Islands Gazette. That will also have to correspond with the opening of the first phase of expansion of the Esterley Tibbetts to Yacht Drive. The highway will later be expanded to West Bay.
Mr. Scotland said the exact date for the closure of the part of the road in front of Public Beach would also depend on the construction schedule of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway expansion, but it is likely to happen in the next week.
Closure of a further section of West Bay Road, up to Yacht Drive, will be done following the publication of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report.
“The commitment we have made and continue to make is closing of the other section will not be done until the independent review has been released and people will have an opportunity to look at that review and question it,” Mr. Anglin said.
The new-look Public Beach is unlikely to have unlicensed vendors operating on it. The government began its clampdown on illegal vendors last week.
Mr. Glidden said there would be tighter regulations relating to beach vendors at the enhanced public beach by a Beach Management Committee, which would only allow licensed vendors to operate on that beach.
The existing public beach will be expanded inland, across West Bay Road and up to the Esterley Tibbetts Highway and will include camping areas, sports facilities, running and cycling paths and a dog park.
There has been both political and public opposition to the closure of any section of West Bay Road. Asked if a new government that is opposed to the closure of the road gets into power after the next election in May, if the road closure that will be gazetted shortly would be reversible, Mr. Glidden said he did not think the section in question was controversial.
“I don’t think any future government will come along and say ‘we want to put a main vehicular road through the middle of the facility … but I guess it could happen. Crazier things have happened,” he said.