St. Maarten Pride Foundation: A Causeway across the Lagoon is not a solution

There has been a lot of discussion about Government’s proposed causeway across the Simpson Bay Lagoon these past few days, please allow us to address the matter and inform your readership of St. Maarten Pride Foundation’s position on the subject. 

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Traffic congestion has become a major concern for St. Maarten’s residents and the island’s many cruise ship and stay-over visitors. Long traffic jams occur throughout the entire island with the route between the Airport and Philipsburg, which partially follows the Simpson Bay Lagoon’s shoreline, often being the most congested.

This past Saturday’s news informed us that the Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority Corporation, a subsidiary of the Government owned Harbor Group of companies, signed a contract for the construction of a causeway over the Lagoon. Minister Heyliger has promoted the causeway as a way to relieve traffic congestion. Much of Government’s actions and projects aimed at the alleviation of traffic congestion have only focused on the expansion of road networks. Various government policy plans, government commissioned reports and independent studies have, however, identified the alarming number of vehicles on St. Maarten as the primary cause of traffic congestion. With the amount of registered vehicles on the island increasing by a considerable amount almost annually, this planned road network expansion will cease to meet traffic capacity needs in less than 5 years.

Research and experience in numerous countries in the Caribbean and around the world shows that increased road capacity is very quickly filled with what researchers have termed "induced vehicle traffic"; people tend to abandon public transportation and carpools when additional road space is made available, through new road construction or linkages, thereby resulting in more cars on the road and subsequently more traffic jams.

The proposed causeway across the Lagoon will quickly result in more cars on the road and subsequently more traffic jams as:

· People will likely take additional trips to the Simpson Bay, Cole Bay or Marigot area considering that the causeway will cause the destinations to seem more accessible.

· People tend to abandon public transportation and carpools when additional road space is made available.

· The causeway will stimulate development and commercialization of previously less visited or desirable locations due to increased accessibility.

· The causeway will partially shift the traffic congestion problem from one side of the Lagoon to the other.

Increasing road network capacity, by building a causeway across the Simpson Bay Lagoon, in efforts to alleviate traffic jams is therefore not an effective solution for St. Maarten’s traffic related challenges.

It should also be noted that no comprehensive traffic or road network study for St. Maarten has been carried out within the last fifteen to twenty years despite the tremendous growth the island has experienced during this period. Government has not taken any measures regarding the comparatively more sustainable and cost-effective proposals, aimed at alleviating traffic congestion in the long-term as listed in the Multi Annual Policy Plan, The Tourism Master Plan and the Carrying Capacity Study even though these recommendations or studies may very well dispel or void Government’s perceived need for this causeway. The obvious question here is, why not?

In defending proposed and often controversial projects, Government and in particular the Minister of Environment and Public Works Theo Heyliger and his immediate staff are always eager to claim that these projects were all mentioned in the Development Perspective

St. Maarten, Philipsburg, Greater Great Bay Area (GGBA) or "Almere Plan" and that this perspective was adopted unanimously by the Island Council in 2001. Saturday’s article in the Daily Herald is no different as it includes the following paragraph: "The Development Vision… … adopted unanimously by the island council in 2001 had included the suggestion for the causeway".

This claim, which has not only been made in the media but in Island Council meetings and official correspondence as well, is false for the simple reason that the Almere Plan does not mention the causeway across the Lagoon nor does any such approval of the Almere Plan dated 2001 exist. In his foreword on page 7 of the Almere Plan the then Mayor of Almere Drs. H.G. Ouwerkerk states the following: "During the summer of 2001 the island government of St. Maarten requested the assistance of the municipality of Almere in the preparation of a development plan for Philipsburg and Environs". Page 11 of the same document goes on to state that "In December 2002 TKA was commissioned by the Municipality of Almere to carry out the study…". The approval of the Almere Plan could therefore not be dated 2001, unless government knew exactly what the document would recommend and somehow approved it before its completion.

This often referred to Development Perspective is over half a decade old and much has changed on St. Maarten since its compilation. In addition, the "Development perspective St. Maarten Philipsburg Greater Great Bay Area" is just a perspective, vision or a view point and has no legal standing.

Saturday’s Article in the Daily Herald contains the following sentence;

"The Almere Plan, … … was developed through analysis and sessions with stakeholders, including environmental organizations". This sentence seems to insinuate that environmental organisations approved of or recommended road network expansion projects during the information session held with TKA and the Almere group in 2003, this insinuation is entirely misleading and inaccurate at best. The development perspective itself contradicts the implication; The following stakeholders have been consulted about the development vision described in this report … … … … . Their wishes have been noted by TKA, and as far as possible taken into account during the formulation of this Development Vision. Development perspective St. Maarten Philipsburg Greater Great Bay Area" (TKA, Architecture & Urban Design, 2003)

It is obvious to St. Maarten Pride Foundation that the full range of social, economic, traffic and environmental impacts of a causeway over the Lagoon have not been be studied or taken into consideration and weighed against the negligible and short-lived infrastructural benefits (temporary and very minor traffic alleviation) the causeway will provide. Once again the Foundation is left to wonder, why the aforementioned has not been done.

It must be reiterated that St. Maarten Pride is in full favor of the development and implementation of sustainable solutions to St. Maarten’s and in this particular case Simpson Bay’s traffic congestion challenges. The Foundation is however convinced that a causeway across the Lagoon is not a solution and that the actual purpose of the project is not about alleviating traffic at all.

St. Maarten Pride Foundation