Persistent traffic jams on the eastern and southern ends of Grand Cayman will not ultimately be fixed by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, Premier Alden McLaughlin acknowledged last week.
Traffic solutions, he said, would need to be part of a longer-term strategy taking into account economic growth, social development and infrastructure – an overarching plan that Cayman does not have at present, the premier said.
“Cayman has struggled, and continues to struggle, with what it is we really want.”
Mr. McLaughlin told a group of about 40 residents gathered at the Seafarers Hall in Prospect Thursday night, “The minute development slows down, people go absolutely nuts. Our success as a country has been tied, over the last 40 to 50 years, to growth and development.”
During the public discussion at the Seafarers Hall, a number of residents noted that police traffic mitigation measures could only serve to stem the tide of a larger population and more cars joining the commute to work each day.
Cayman’s population in 2016 reached more than 61,000 people and was expected to grow again in 2017.
“I’ve heard we plan to take on 100,000 people,” said retired George Town businessman Billy Adam. “Is that really what you want for a nice little tropical Caribbean island? No hassle, no stress. Biggest lie being told right now.”
Mr. Adam said he felt sorry for the police, whom he said were being asked to “do the impossible” with regard to traffic mitigation measures.
“Where is the National Roads Authority? Where is planning?” he asked.
Mr. McLaughlin noted he was displeased the NRA, in particular, had not attended Thursday’s meeting with local residents, which was aimed at finding ways to ease traffic congestion in eastern George Town and Bodden Town during rush hour.
“They ought to have been here,” the premier said.
However, the premier said, regardless of the government agency responsible, continued growth in the economy and the population was still needed in the medium term – unless Cayman wished to change its current economic model.
The premier questioned whether the average Caymanian family would agree to possess fewer cars, or agree to rules limiting the number of autos per household, as a way to reduce traffic.
He asked if local businesses would agree, during periods of growth, to hire fewer non-Caymanians on work permits, or if those companies would agree to ban permit-holders from owning vehicles.
“I’m pretty sure what the response to that is going to be,” he said.
“Unless something significant happens … like the bottom falls out of Cayman’s economy, in another 20 years we are going to easily be at 80,000 people [total population].
“It is investment and businesspeople who say ‘my business needs more people to operate.’ If government says, ‘you cannot get any more work permits,’ we know what the response is that we will get. There is a trade-off with these things.”
Mr. McLaughlin suggested, as have certain members of the opposition political group, that Cayman start another nation planning exercise, similar to what was attempted in the “Vision 2008” project, done in the 1990s.
The difficulty with that plan, the premier said, is it never got “buy in” from the elected government at the time, and so, its reforms became difficult to implement. Perhaps, this time around, the effort would be different, he said.
“But we really must, and soon, start another one of these national discussion about what Cayman is going to look like,” the premier said.