Residents Question DPW Commissioner on Centerline Road Work Delay

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About 35 people came out to Coral Bay Community Council’s August 20 meeting at Guy Benjamin School to hear from Department of Public Works Commissioner Daryl Smalls on the status of repairs for crumbling Centerline Road.

In addition to Smalls, DPW’s Federal Highway Division Manager Winston Benjamin and the department’s St. John projects manager Dale Brathwaite also attended last week’s meeting. The officials discussed the almost three year delay in fixing Centerline Road, which is the sole road connecting Coral Bay to Cruz Bay.

The roadway was initially damaged in several areas in the wake of heavy rain dumped by Tropical Storm Otto in October 2010. Following years of inaction as DPW applied for Federal Highway Administration funds, a section of the roadway near the Estate Upper Carolina subdivision gave way during a rainstorm this May.

The latest damage sent a large chunk of Centerline Road down the hillside and forced officials to close one lane of traffic in the area. The project was finally approved by FHA a few months ago, and DPW recently awarded the estimated $1 million contract to Island Roads, according to CBCC President Sharon Coldren.

“The federal money has been approved and Island Roads is the contractor who was selected,” said Coldren. “Commissioner Smalls plans to issue the notice to proceed within 30 days. The timing of the work, however, remained vague.”

It seems likely, according to Coldren, that Island Roads will have to submit applications for permits from Department of Planning and Natural Resources before proceeding with the Centerline Road project, which includes three separate areas. DPW officials, however, previously said that the contractor will take emergency actions in the most severely damaged  section near Estate Upper Carolina.

At the August 20 meeting Smalls confirmed that the project will be completed by March and that Centerline Road will not be closed during the construction phase, according to CBCC officials.

“The work will be ongoing, but we didn’t get any time frames,” said Coldren. “The commissioner did say that Island Roads might even mobilize equipment out here before the starting date.”

Residents at least week’s meeting also questioned the DPW Commissioner about the lack of VITRAN bus service on the island.

“The commissioner promised to have a bus back up and running right away and he explained that the purchase of new buses is an ongoing project which will be a while,” said Coldren.

New buses must be custom made to conform with the Virgin Islands’ left lane driving, which sends the cost of the vehicles skyrocketing, Coldren explained.

VITRAN stopped weekend and holiday service due to low ridership Smalls explained at the meeting, Coldren added.

“The commissioner also said that the reason we don’t have service on weekends is that the ride was only taking in $25 to $60 a day and that didn’t even pay for gas and he has to have four people mobilized to run the route,” said the CBCC president.

When asked by John’s Folly Learning Institute Director Alvis Christian about the possibility of supplying bus service on Labor Day for the annual Coral Bay celebration, the DPW Commissioner didn’t make any promises, according to residents at last week’s CBCC meeting.

DPW officials announced they had awarded a contract to Better Roads to pave the final section of Bordeaux Mountain Road, according to residents who attended the August 20 meeting.

About $750,000 has been authorized for survey and preliminary engineering work on Kingshill Road, Small explained at the meeting, according to Coldren.

“The commissioner said that the $750,000 that had been authorized for Kingshill Road would only cover doing some survey work and preliminary engineering because it would take several million dollars to redo that road in order to meet Federal Highway standards,” said Coldren. “You have an historic road that was not intended for modern vehicles which has been grand-fathered into the system and, in order to bring it into modern use, has to be completely redesigned.”

As a board member of the V.I. Waste Management Authority, Smalls also asked residents to suggest possible alternative spaces to relocate the Coral Bay main dumpsters, Coldren explained.

“Commissioner Smalls asked if anyone had land in the room who would like to suggest for this site as all which have been suggested so far did not meet one criteria or another,” said the CBCC president.

Smalls also discussed DPW’s budget situation which has been pinched from around $28 million in 2009 to around $19.6 million last year, according to residents.

CBCC officials and Coral Bay residents at last week’s meeting also took time to thank DPW officials for their contributions to recent stormwater improvements, Coldren explained.

“I stood up and thanked DPW and acknowledged their partnership in our NOAA ARRA and EPA grants which brought more than $2 million in stormwater improvements to St. John,” said Coldren. “We’ve been working with Dale Brathwaite on some new experimental projects as well as continued stormwater management.”

Residents at the meeting also applauded two main projects DPW has completed in recent years, Coldren added.

“We acknowledged two improvements within the administration: striping Centerline Road so it is safe to drive at night from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay and the roadside clearing which improves sight distance around our blind curves and makes it easier for cars and pedestrians,” she said. “There were rounds of strong applause for all of those accomplishments.”