NRA cites concerns with Dart road plan application


As published by the Cayman Compass

The National Roads Authority is concerned that the Lawrence Boulevard roundabout near Camana Bay will become a traffic bottleneck. – PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

The National Roads Authority says it is concerned traffic delays on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway abutting Camana Bay will shift to the Lawrence Boulevard roundabout after the Dart Group widens the road through its development if the section south of the roundabout is not widened to four lanes as well.

Cayman Shores Development Ltd., a Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd. subsidiary, has submitted an application to the Central Planning Authority seeking approval to realign the section of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway between the Lawrence Boulevard roundabout and the Galleria roundabout, widen it to four lanes, and construct an enclosed underpass for a portion of road. The application was reviewed by the Planning Authority on June 10 and again on July 8.

At the Planning Authority meeting of June 10, a number of issues and concerns of the National Roads Authority with regard to the proposed underpass in particular were presented. The July 8 meeting minutes indicate that on June 16, the National Roads Authority met with Cayman Shores representatives and its engineers, APEC, to address the issues. The roads authority set several conditions for its approval of the plan, and Cayman Shores agreed to the conditions.

However, the July 8 minutes also indicate the roads authority subsequently made some lengthy comments with regard to the traffic impact assessment conducted by the U.S. firm VHB. Although the roads authority called the traffic impact assessment “quite comprehensive,” it noted that the study area was confined to assessing impacts on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway between the Galleria and Lawrence Boulevard roundabouts, as well as a section of West Bay Road.

“[The National Roads Authority] is of the view that the study limits for the [traffic impact assessment] should have included the [Esterley Tibbetts Highway] section south of Lawrence Boulevard and also includes the Butterfield roundabout as part of the analysis, and the proposed Airport Connector Road.”

The roads authority commented that the traffic impact assessment demonstrated that widening the two-lane section of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway to four lanes would eliminate many of the current travel delays. However, it added that it was “genuinely concerned that the delay conditions currently experienced along [Esterley Tibbetts Highway] through Camana Bay (where two southbound travel lanes are narrowed down to one travel lane) will simply be relocated to the Lawrence Boulevard roundabout ….”

Cayman Shores noted that the terms of reference for the scope of the traffic impact assessment were reviewed and approved by the Roads Authority on July 3, 2014, and noted that in December 2014, it stated that “in hindsight, [National Roads Authority] staff think it would have benefited us to include analysis of the conditions at Butterfield roundabout and the future Airport Connector Road,” and that “perhaps we can discuss with VHB the possibility of [National Roads Authority] funding an expanded review of the study to include the aforementioned items.”

Although it suggested it could discuss widening the scope of the assessment with VHB, the roads authority was adamant that the expanded assessment be a condition of its approval to Cayman Shores’ proposal.

“We feel it is imperative that the widening of the [Esterley Tibbetts Highway] from the Lawrence Boulevard roundabout to the Butterfield roundabout should be a project that is carried out in parallel with the proposed relocation of the [Esterley Tibbetts Highway] through Camana Bay,” the National Roads Authority said. “Our provisional endorsement of this application is based strictly on the premise that this should be considered before final approval is entertained.”

Cayman Shores said it had no objection to the widening of the road south of Camana Bay being carried out in parallel with its proposed roadworks, but that it did not feel “that it is a reasonable condition for the [Central Planning Authority] to impose since it is not within [Cayman Shores’] or the [Central Planning Authority’s] control and it is not a part of [Cayman Shores’] application before the [Central Planning Authority],” it said. “[Cayman Shores] does not believe its application’s approval should be conditioned, refused or adjourned as a result of something outside the scope of this application. The improvement of the road south of Camana Bay is not in [Cayman Shores’] remit.”

In an article that appeared in the Cayman Islands Journal in May 2015, Dart Realty CEO Mark VanDevelde said the Dart Group had discussed with government the possibility of getting involved in widening the section of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway south of Lawrence Boulevard to four lanes and in creating the roundabout that would be necessary to connect it to the planned Airport Connector Road.

“We understand that it [would cost] about $10 million, plus or minus, to complete the four-lane road, and that would probably be a bare bones four lanes with a divider,” he said in the interview, noting that he did not think government would have $10 million in its near-term budget for the project. However, he said, there were some ways Dart could recover the expenditure if it were to partner with government on the project.

He said government has expressed openness to discuss the possibilities. “They really want us to do it, or want it to get done, so it’s their approach,” he said. “We certainly see it as a benefit [for] safety and traffic-related issues ….”

The Cayman Shores application for construction of the underpass, the road realignment and its widening will ultimately be decided by the Central Planning Authority and not the National Roads Authority, although the Planning Authority considers input from all relevant government bodies.

Dart Realty said it hopes to hear a decision on the application soon. Once approved, the infrastructure project, estimated to cost US$40 million, is expected to take 12 months to complete.

“We are hopeful of a positive response to the application heard by the Central Planning Authority Board and look forward to receiving official communications on approvals and any associated conditions,” Dart Realty said in a statement on Tuesday.