Solving the extensive road issues in Prospect and Red Bay will come with some growing pains, residents heard at Seafarers Hall during a public meeting Tuesday evening.
“There will be a period of some pain, as the work is carried out to affect these changes,” Red Bay MLA and Premier Alden McLaughlin said.
“But in the medium to longer term, we are confident the situation will become much, much better.”
More than 100 residents crowded into the Victory Avenue location on Tuesday to share their concerns about road safety, traffic congestion, flooding, and poor connectivity, among other issues.
Unaddressed, such issues are only expected to worsen. In the next 10 to 15 years, McLaughlin forecast the population of the Cayman Islands will reach 100,000 people.
“We are keenly conscious of the frustrations and inconvenience that the present situation causes all of us on this side of Grand Cayman,” he said.
The premier was joined by members of the Department of Commerce and the National Roads Authority in outlining several major infrastructure projects in the Prospect/Red Bay area aimed at addressing larger roads problems.
Widening of Shamrock Road
Work to expand Shamrock Road is expected to start in the first half of 2020, explained Tristan Hydes, deputy chief officer for the Department of Commerce. While modelling of the roadway is ongoing, the street is slated for widening from four to six lanes from the Red Bay roundabout to the roundabout by Linford Pierson Highway.
Part of this plan would include expanding the Grand Harbour roundabout to three lanes. A stoplight may also be installed to control the flow of traffic from South Sound Road.
Edward Howard of the National Roads Authority added that incorporating safety elements, such as a centre turn lane and bicycle lanes, will also factor into the street’s redevelopment.
Expansion of East-West Arterial
The connector road that currently runs from Prospect to Hirst Road is scheduled for extension. That work could begin in late August or early September. As part of the plan, a new roadway would expand from Hirst Road to Lookout Road in Bodden Town.
An existing strip of the East-West Arterial, from Poindexter Drive to the Red Bay Roundabout, is also scheduled for upgrades. The first lane of the road will be widened and more shoulder will be incorporated. The idea, Hydes explained, is to encourage more traffic to flow onto the arterial rather than using Shamrock Road.
Six parcels of land have been purchased by government between Victory Avenue and Prospect Drive to develop a community park, McLaughlin said, adding that planning for the project is at an advanced stage. A steering committee, including members of the Prospect Red Bay Community Group, will guide the park’s development.
The park has received a $150,000 donation from Fred Whittaker and members of the Lions Club of Grand Cayman, McLaughlin added. The rest of the funding will come from government.
Plans for the park include a parking area, walking track, basketball court, a sand area and play equipment for children, cabanas for parties, and bathroom facilities, Hydes said.
Other, smaller lots in the Prospect/Red Bay area could be developed into parks and green spaces as well.
An announcement that garnered extensive applause was the plan to build a connector road between Selkirk Drive and Bimini Drive. Planners hope the new road will ease stress on residents of Selkirk Drive who are not currently able to make right-hand turns off their street. During morning commutes to George Town, for example, they must first turn left and flip around at the next roundabout, increasing commute times and road congestion.
McLaughlin said building the connector road to Bimini Drive had been delayed in the past due to difficulty negotiating with land owners.
“We have taken the decision to compulsorily acquire that piece of land,” he said. “Once government owns it, we can then do what we need to do with it.”
Poor drainage and frequent flooding on Selkirk Drive were also a point of discussion. Hydes said planners are currently looking at the issue and hope to start work on improving drainage in October or November.
Drainage in general was a major issue voiced by Prospect and Red Bay residents. Several complained that flooding and drainage issues became worse after the development of Grand Harbour.
Prospect MLA Austin Harris pointed out that the high water table in the area exacerbates drainage issues. While new drains are being planned for several streets, including Raven Avenue and Selkirk Drive, planners explained that a number of factors can delay such works, including placement of utilities and budgets.
“Like drains, we don’t have the capacity to give everyone a street light,” Harris said. “We can’t give everyone a drain. It’s simply not practical.”
Several audience members questioned if the Grand Harbour canal system could be used for drainage.
Howard said the Department of Environment prefers that water from roadways not flow into canals and thus the ocean.
McLaughlin also pointed out that canals are private property. He added, however, that government can work around such restrictions.
“If we have to compulsorily acquire canals, we will do that,” McLaughlin said. “We’re going to do what we have to do to fix it.”
Complete streets and larger traffic issues
Minister of Planning and Infrastructure Joey Hew touched on the islandwide issues with traffic congestion, particularly for cars travelling from the eastern districts to George Town.
“On the issue of traffic, as we all know, there is no one fix. We have to look at this in a very holistic manner. We cannot continue to simply build roads, so we have to look at things like public transport,” he said, adding that a mass public transportation study has been budgeted.
Hew threw his support behind a proposal from MLA Harris to place limits on vehicle imports through measures such as restricting the age of imports and requiring those who import multiple vehicles a year to take out a business licence.
He expected to announce soon an initiative to encourage the purchase of bicycles and electric vehicles as part of larger goals to reduce emissions.
All new street designs will also include bicycle and pedestrian access, he added.