Environmental groups are calling for sustainable solutions to Cayman’s traffic problems.
Both the National Trust and Sustainable Cayman have cautioned against building new lanes and extending highways to deal with the problem.
They warn that this approach will inevitably impact the island’s diminishing open spaces and mangrove wetlands.
Nadia Hardie, executive director of the National Trust, said the organisation was concerned that new road plans would eat up habitat without making a great difference to the congestion issue.
“All traffic, even with six lanes, will almost certainly end in a bottleneck in George Town,” she said.
“These new lanes will simply have a significant detrimental impact on our already threatened habitats, including dry forest and wetlands, which are home to vulnerable endemic flora and fauna.”
Linda Clark, of Sustainable Cayman, said any discussion about new roads needs to be part of a proper plan for land use on all three islands that gives greater priority to preserving biodiversity and green space.
Recent research has shown that Cayman has lost a third of its mangroves since the 1960s. A species conservation plan has been drafted by the National Conservation Council but has yet to be passed by Cabinet.
Clark believes the desire for a swifter commute should be balanced with the possible long-term consequences for the island.
“Wetland habitats are vital, among other things, to the biodiversity, coastal protection, reef fish population, water clarity and cultural heritage of our islands,” she said.
“What loss of these vital habitats are we willing to accept as a nation?”
There are smarter solutions to traffic, including safe, reliable public transport and cycling and walking infrastructure, that would do far less damage to the environment than road building, she said.
A potential flashpoint
The East-West Arterial Highway extension is a potential flashpoint between government and environmental advocates.
A proposal for a 10-mile extension to the route, as far as Frank Sound, was put before the National Conservation Council in 2016. At the time, it was linked to plans for the Ironwood golf course project in the area, which never materialised.
The council said an extensive environmental impact assessment would be needed for the project.
The current proposal is to extend the road from its end point at Savannah to as far as Bodden Town.
Government hopes to complete the first mile, which does not traverse environmentally sensitive areas, in short order but has accepted that an EIA will be required for the rest of the route to Bodden Town.
In its analysis of the full, 10-mile proposal in 2016, the council opined on the right process for highway development: “Most jurisdictions require the planning of road schemes to begin with a Strategic Environmental Assessment to be followed by an Environmental Impact Assessment once the need for the road has been established, alternative routes have been evaluated and the preferred route identified.”
Clark believes a broader range of alternatives should also be factored in to ensure that investment in roads is not pursued at the expense of policies that seek to reduce vehicle use.
“Each road should have a business case supporting it which includes the full assessment of the loss of natural capital to our islands, the cost of associated pollution in neighbouring areas and an assessment of alternatives,” she said.
The National Trust echoed calls for proper investment in public transport and limits to vehicle ownership, before more road-building projects are considered.
Hardie said consultation with other jurisdictions facing similar issues would be a smart first step.
Though Cayman has begun work on a new development plan, she said the draft plan that went out for consultation had not factored in population growth.
“Simply building more roads without looking at suitable long-term options will have dire consequences for our environment and endemic species, which are already under threat from habitat destruction,” she added.