The island’s lone road connecting Coral Bay and Cruz Bay continues to degrade and erode.
As a section of heavily damaged Centerline Road continued to worsen last week, residents, not satisfied with promises from government officials, called for immediate action.
A portion of Centerline Road located near the Upper Carolina subdivision turnoff was first undermined during heavy rains in October 2010. Since then, the road has continued to degrade with a mid-May rainfall sending a large portion of the asphalt tumbling over the hillside. That latest damage left only one lane passable in the area, which affords only limited visibility.
Centerline Road is the sole paved access road into and out of the Coral Bay area, which means that all traffic — school buses, commuters, VITRAN buses, concrete trucks, delivery vehicles, tourists and more — passing between the growing town of Coral Bay and Cruz Bay drives over the continually crumbling section of the road.
Almost three years later, the only action taken by government officials to fix the road so far has been to place orange cones and barriers in the area. Following the May damage, DPW borrowed signs and a solar-powered flashing light warning of the upcoming single lane from V.I. National Park.
The delay in repairing the roadbed has been blamed by government officials on the tedious process of applying for funds from the Federal Highway Administration. This portion of Centerline Road is one of three areas of the roadway and a section of Fish Bay Road which are all considered by DPW to be part of the one project seeking funds from FHA
Finally, last week the federal agency approved DPW’s project application.
DPW was set to advertise for bids on Monday, June 17, for the project and hoped to pick a contractor by July with work projected to begin in September. Engineers surveyed the damaged area last week and plan to stabilize the damage section of roadway as the first phase of construction, DPW Commissioner Smalls explained in a prepared statement from Government House.
“We recognize this road poses a serious concern to the motoring public on St. John,” Smalls said in the release. “We recognize the critical nature of this road and we are going to be doing everything within our powers and resources to implement the necessary safety measures to alleviate the concerns and fears of St. John motorists.”
The pledge for work to begin in several months — during the height of hurricane season — did not please residents who have been calling for action on Centerline Road for weeks.
While not wanting to scare people, it is time to raise the alarm about the road, Coral Bay Community Council president Sharon Coldren wrote in a letter to Smalls.
“We have not wanted to be alarmist about the crumbling of Centerline Road Route 10 (caused by Tropical Storm Otto, October 2010) as it enters Coral Bay, St. John, USVI, threatening the community’s only paved, federally funded, access road,” wrote Coldren. “ But it is too late now. We are raising the alarm.”
“The roadway is now — each day — crumbling more as traffic, including heavy water trucks and construction equipment, rumbles through here, obeying the current one-way status,” she wrote. “All of us who have been patient with realities of the government’s financial and staff situation are about to witness a preventable tragedy or, at the least, a serious economic inconvenience. Fixing this portion of Route 10 to repair the damage from Hurricane Otto almost three years ago needs to take emergency status now.”
“Mostly this is Federal funds, but the funding sources and contracting rules can’t be the lead driver — or rationale for delay — any more,” Coldren wrote. “This is a genuine emergency that now must be dealt with in a matter of days or even hours, in order to prevent Coral Bay, St. John from being cut off from normal paved road access. There are also other known spots on the road that are almost as dangerous, and threatening to collapse at any time, as we enter rainy season.”
Pickles in Paradise owner Beverly Melius and several of her employees stood at the damaged area last week and gathered signatures from drivers to demand a Legislative hearing on the damaged road and lack of action.
Other residents are simply fed up with the slow process and want to see action before someone gets killed.
“My biggest fear is that someone is going to be killed either from a truck barrelling down the road into the one lane when another vehicle is there, or tumbling off the hillside,” said one Coral Bay resident. “It is ridiculous that we have had to wait for two and a half years as the road just get worse and worse. And now we have to wait longer?”
“What is it going to take before something gets done,” asked the resident. “This cannot happen any longer.”
In addition to wanting answers about when work will begin, residents also want to make driving in the area safer.
“Can we please borrow the mobile traffic light from VINP,” said another Coral Bay resident.
“It’s just so dangerous in that part of the road, you need to have traffic stopping. The signs and the flashing sign are nice, but it’s still very dangerous.”
“It seems like it’s just a matter of time before something terrible happens,” said the resident.
Other residents have renewed their call for opening another road into and out of Coral Bay.
“Can we at least get someone to grade Kinghill Road,” said a Coral Bay resident. “We need a secondary road to use. If Kinghill Road was at least graded I would take that road every day.”