|Location Map ( geo)|
Ascension Island is a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, forming part of the same territory as St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. The majority of the island's population is engaged in activities related to the RAF/USAF airbase on the island and (to a small extent) to tourism, largely due to Ascension's stepping-stone position on the way to/from St Helena or the Falklands. The Americans technically operate the airbase, and pay a nominal lease to the Government for the substantial tracts of land they occupy. Whilst this allows Ascension to operate without UK Government subsidy, it also means that the number of flights that the UK Ministry of Defence is allowed to operate (civilian flights are not allowed) is controlled, and this minimises the tourism potential.
There are four settlements on the island. Georgetown is the main port and administrative centre. Two Boats is the other main civilian residential settlement, originally built as Royal Air Force accommodation, but now used by support staff and RAF families on long contracts. Nearby Travellers Hill is now the main RAF base for the transient staff. Finally Cat Hill is home to the US contingent. However, at present there are relatively few US nationals on the island, sothat many of the residents of Cat Hill are Saints (natives of St Helena).
Most roads are single-carriageway two-lane asphalt. The main Ring Road and link to the airport and into Georgetown are asphalt (looks a little like AC10) with surface dressing over the top. Unconfirmed reports suggest the Americans brought in a large hot-mix plant at some stage to lay all these roads and then took it away again afterwards. Other roads appear to have a microasphalt surface with very little structural construction below. There are unconfirmed and conflicting reports of the Ascension Island Government's having recently acquired a small 4-8 TPH asphalt plant for repair work.
Signage and road markings
There is a heavy mixture of both British and American road markings and signs, with possibly some home-made layouts. Centre lines are normally either dotted white, single solid white, or single solid yellow. The latter seems to indicate roads built by the Americans. However, often they’re too faded to really tell.
Signs are few and far between, ‘Stop’ is used in preference to ‘Give Way’ and there are also Irish-style ‘Yield’ signs. Where Stop lines are used, they often seem to be set back at the start of the flare for the junction, making it difficult to see traffic on the main road. This may be due to the scrub growing since the junctions were first laid out. Bend warning signs, when they occur, are UK standard, but often with the accompanying plate ‘dangerous bend’. There are also a lot of US spec signs on the island, particularly around Cat Hill, the US base. Many of these are reminders to wear seat belts.
Traffic-calming measures and pavements
There are many speed humps in the urban 20 zones. All of them appear too severe by UK standards as they are generally round concrete and quite high. Cattle grids also feature quite prominently at the entrance to urban areas.
Pavements can be found in some of the urban areas, but are often intermittent. They are generally of concrete, with no concept of DDA so no dropped kerbs or links to other surfaced areas, including the road they run parallel to. There are no apparent cycleways, and only a handful of adults seem to cycle.
In Georgetown, and to a lesser extent Cat Hill, the natural ground material seems to be black clinker – essentially black volcanic gravel resembling poorly sealed tarmac with new chippings. Combined with the general lack of garden ground around many buildings, and the consequent wide gaps between properties, this has led to the distinction between road and not-road being blurred. Some effort has been made to control the movements of vehicles, with white-painted stones placed across 'junctions' to block traffic.
Ascension has six main surfaced routes, a number of side roads, and many miles of dirt road. The side roads not only provide access to property in the urban areas, but also to the various military installations dotted around the island. These are often to be found on the top of hills, resulting in steep climbs with sharp bends. Dirt roads are open to the public, and some even have road signs, but are often only suitable for 4x4s. The two main car-hirers on the island request that their cars do not leave the surfaced roads (they also hire 4x4s, which can).
The most important road on the island is the Airhead Road linking Georgetown with the airfield, passing through Cat Hill. The other two settlements are linked together via Old Mountain Road and New Mountain Road. Finally, there are three routes which lead to various installations on the edge of the island, namely the English Bay Road leading to the BBC relay station, the Ariane Road (also called the North East Bay Road) leading to the Ariane Tracking Station and the NASA Road leading to the former NASA site in the south east of the island.
Vehicles on Ascension seem to be registered to one of three systems. The majority (over 1300) use the standard Government system with an A prefix, ie A1 - A1312 etc. The vehicles belonging to the Administrator are AA1 and AA2. In addition, there are a number of UK MOD vehicles, with standard MOD plates. The third system is that seen on US vehicles. This is presumably a US based system, with a substantial number of 97X12345 style plates (97 = 1997?), but newer vehicles (ie starting 03 / 07 etc) seem to lose the X.