Although the Legislative Assembly has created a dedicated annual fund of $10 million for local road repairs, East End MLA and former roads minister Arden McLean said last week that it is not nearly enough to suit Cayman’s infrastructure needs.
“I don’t see $10 million [a year] cutting it, I really don’t,” Mr. McLean, an engineer by trade, said. “Every time it rains, [the National Roads Authority] can’t keep up with the drains. They can’t keep up with … cutting the verges of the road. Why? Because the resources are not available.”
Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts, who has oversight responsibility for government public works and the roads authority, said last week that maintaining Grand Cayman’s thoroughfares falls under the same financial constraints as every other service the government provides.
Mr. Tibbetts said the Progressives-led government was told “by London” that Cayman’s overall operating budget had to be $13 million less in 2013/14 than it was in the year before. In the 2014/15 budget year, it was reduced by a further $12 million.
In the current budget year, which started July 1, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office allowed Cayman to maintain the same operating expenses as in 2014/15, Mr. Tibbetts said.
“So this budget is $25 million less on the operational side than it was three years ago,” Mr. Tibbetts said. “Ten million [dollars] is the most that the National Roads Authority has ever had to operate with.”
Mr. McLean said he understood the budget constraints, but opined that government had not done everything it could to reduce costs or increase operating revenues.
For instance, the East End MLA said the roads authority could do contract work for certain private road improvements or parking lot paving to increase revenues.
“I know we are afraid to allow them to go out to do revenue[-earning-projects] because then we say they are dipping into free enterprise,” he said.
Mr. McLean also questioned why Cayman Brac, with a population of about 2,000, had National Road Authority paving equipment and an asphalt plant, while the much larger island of Grand Cayman – with nearly 60,000 residents – did not.
“If we’re talking about efficiencies and effectiveness, we took all the paving equipment to Cayman Brac, and Cayman Brac has, what, 150, 100 miles of road? And it’s still there,” he said. “Where this country has the greatest need is right here in Grand Cayman.
“It gets worse. We only have one supplier and one paver of asphalt. We are paying through our nostrils to get the roads paved in this country.”
The day-to-day maintenance of roads and drains is only one issue the country must consider, Mr. McLean said.
He noted the sharp increase in registered vehicles from the time he left the Works and Infrastructure Ministry in mid-2009 – when there were about 30,000 cars registered on island – to 2014, when government records showed nearly 36,000 licensed vehicles.
“What are we going to do 10 years from now when we have another 6,000 to 8,000 cars on the road?” he asked. “Aren’t we thinking about it? We better start.
“If we don’t do it today … you’re going to have gridlock straight into Bodden Town. George Town will forever after that be no place you can drive. You’ll be walking on the top of cars … if we don’t start making decisions now.”
Mr. McLean recommended that government consider adopting a policy similar to one maintained by the U.K. territory of Bermuda, limiting the number of vehicles each household is allowed to own.
“At least consider restricting vehicles in this country,” he said. “We have a finite landmass.”
Mr. Tibbetts said the Progressives-led government has begun a $27 million road-widening program in central George Town which has included the widening of Smith Road, Godfrey Nixon Way and the Linford Pierson Highway with an eye toward alleviating congestion during the morning commute.
The Progressives government has not supported the idea of legal restrictions on vehicle ownership.
The Chamber of Commerce has urged voluntary traffic-reduction measures for employers, such as allowing employees to work flexible hours or to work from home where possible.