NRA quick fixes are tied to long-term problem

Department is accelerating its schedule of planned projects to address traffic crisis.

A traffic light at Hurley's is one of the recent road improvements to help ease commuter traffic. - Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

Projects in the drawing board stage at the National Roads Authority have been kicked into construction mode in recent weeks as the organisation and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service struggle to address a sudden traffic crunch.

Most recently, the NRA has realigned the Red Bay/Prospect section of Shamrock Road, which now has two westbound lanes and one eastbound lane. Lane restrictions and changes have also been made at the Red Bay and Hurley’s roundabouts, and a lane-widening project is under way just west of the Red Bay roundabout.

“These are all things that we’ve planned to do anyway,” said Edward Howard, the NRA’s acting managing director. “Because of the traffic issue, we were seeing what kinds of things we could do right now.”

The current traffic crisis evolved quickly after schools reopened following summer break.

“This all came about primarily as a result of school start times,” Howard said. “Everybody is starting an average of 15 minutes to half an hour earlier. The Bodden Town and Savannah people are entering the road earlier and impacting traffic.”

With schools on mid-term break this week, he said, workers are taking advantage of the drop in the number of cars on the road.

“With the lighter traffic, we’ve been able to get more done,” he said, adding that crews are pushing to complete as much as they can before classes resume next week.

On Friday, Premier Alden McLaughlin and Minister of Infrastructure Joey Hew toured some of the ongoing projects with NRA officials.

Hew said he is hoping the work will ease the problem.

“We are working our hardest to minimise the amount of time commuters have to spend in traffic,” Hew said.

While the changes taking place right now are not major, Howard said a road-widening project is planned that will create three lanes of traffic in each direction between the Hurley’s and Chrissie Tomlinson roundabouts. That project is expected to be completed in 2021.

A land dispute has prevented widening Linford Pierson Highway between Agnes Road and Bobby Thompson Way.

“We’re hoping we can get some kind of compromise where we can at least get two lanes westbound there,” Howard said.

Construction is also expected to begin soon on an extension road connecting Minerva Drive and Sparkys Drive, which has commonly been referred to as the airport bypass.

Even with all of these projects, traffic will remain a problem, Howard said.

“All you’re doing is getting traffic quicker to another point and it bottlenecks there,” he said. “You’re just shifting bottlenecks all over the place.”

He’s hoping the current crunch will force Cayman to address its traffic problem more seriously.

“There’s only a finite amount of space,” he said. “We’re going to really have to start to look at ways to minimise dependence on the car and implementation of a proper bus system.”

The rate at which cars are being imported also needs to be addressed, he said, along with encouraging telecommuting and building more business centres on the east end of the island so people don’t have to commute long distances.

“There’s no one solution,” he said. “It will take additional roads, but it’s going to take other things as well.”

He said he’s hoping some of the things being done now by the NRA and the RCIPS – with officers on the roads directing traffic during rush hour – will ease the current crisis and create a manageable flow in the coming weeks.

“The police can’t be out there every day,” he said, looking at the long term. “It’s not sustainable.”