Kudos to government for moving forward on a 10-mile extension of the East-West Arterial Highway.
Construction could begin in 2020. In the meantime, the National Roads Authority is working on short-term solutions to commuters’ daily headaches, Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew told the Compass this week.
Initially, the extension project was to be carried out in partnership with the developers of the Ironwood golf resort near Frank Sound. But as that development percolates, with no definite timeline to completion, government is wise to forge ahead. Public-private partnerships usually are a more efficient use of resources, but easing traffic congestion from the eastern districts is a critical need.
It seems as if every time a large project is proposed to the east of George Town, our cramped infrastructure endangers its success – Ironwood, Health City and the Bodden Town landfill come immediately to mind. A robust arterial that allows free flow of heavy traffic would make it easier to live, work and play in the eastern districts. It would dramatically increase the quality of life for residents who prefer quieter, more affordable communities but dread the 45-minute (or longer) commute.
But it would be a mistake to expect this extension, or any highway, to single-handedly solve our maddening daily gridlock. Just as with previous improvements and upgrades, we suspect it will make some travel easier, exacerbate bottlenecks in other areas and leave still other congested roads entirely unchanged.
The fact is, as it has been said, Grand Cayman cannot pave its way out of traffic headaches. There is a limit to the amount of asphalt our small island can comfortably accommodate. Luckily, we are not alone in the struggle – small and dense jurisdictions the world over have grappled with overwhelming traffic flows. We can learn from their experiences. As Hew told the Compass, the long-term fix must include alternative and public transportation options.
There are tremendous growth opportunities in our bus system, particularly for commuters. Expanding bus routes and increasing ridership could remove hundreds of cars from our busy roads.
Long-term planning could divert traffic over time from cramped and congested areas and incorporate street and sidewalk improvements that encourage walking and cycling – perhaps by improving road shoulders, adding or connecting sidewalks, and planting shade trees to make paths more attractive and provide protection from the sun.
Most importantly, all improvements must be strategic elements in a comprehensive road plan which, itself, meshes into a larger infrastructure framework that includes the airport, ports, public transport, water and wastewater, telecommunications, electricity and essential services, like hospitals and schools.
A well-designed, maintained and functioning transportation system is not unlike a body’s circulatory system, bringing energy, activity and vitality to every district. Our current, inadequate system diminishes residents’ and visitors’ experiences and threatens our long-term economic growth.
In fact, we would bet that many residents’ complaints about Grand Cayman’s ‘overdevelopment’ stem not from our changing skyline as much as from our inadequate infrastructure. This does not have to be a permanent condition. With long-range comprehensive planning and adequate resources, we can develop world-class systems with plenty of room for growth.