Despite an agreement between the Department of Public Works and the island’s two concrete companies to clean up severely damaged Longmat Hill, the road has only gotten worse.
Centerline Concrete and Majestic Concrete officials met with DPW St. John Deputy Director Ira Wade in February and dug up several pieces of dried concrete and asphalt in mid-March.
Since then, however, not only has the steep road on the island’s East End been the site of additional concrete spills, but that initial effort actually made the area worse by leaving behind large holes forcing motorists to drive in the opposing traffic lane.
While an August fatal car accident involving a Jeep which stalled on the steep incline and flipped, killing a 21-year-old girl, can’t be blamed on the condition of the road, the gravel and deep potholes on Longmat Hill certainly didn’t help.
Neighbors in the East End repeatedly experience close calls with oncoming vehicles.
Too Close for Comfort
“Twice in the past week I’ve had terrifying experiences,” said Carol Beckowitz, an East End resident. “I was going to work and driving in the west bound lane headed to Cruz Bay on the lower end of Longmat at the blind curve. I was in my lane and this speeding pick-up truck full of seven or eight people was in the west bound lane too trying to avoid the rough spot of road there.”
“We came to within an inch and a half of having a head-on collision,” Beckowitz continued. “We had to veer off in opposite directions. We’re really lucky we didn’t hit.”
Greg Patterson had a few close calls in the area last week too. The landscaper, who works on the East End, has lost traction in his truck both driving up the hill to work and back down coming home.
“It was unnerving,” said Patterson. “I was going up the hill and you have to drive in the other lane to go around the trench and there was a recent spill of gravel and I lost traction. I looked in my rear view mirror and I couldn’t even see behind me because there was a huge cloud of dust.”
“When I came home later in the evening and was driving down the hill, the gravel was still there and as soon as I touched my brakes I skidded,” Patterson said. “Any little mishap and it could be disastrous.”
Using Both Lanes
Barbara Alperen, who lives on the East End, has almost been hit by concrete trucks traveling in the wrong lane.
“On more than one occasion I’ve been coming down going toward Coral Bay when I’ve seen a concrete truck traveling in my lane,” said Alperen. “They created all the mess and they won’t even drive in the lane. And not only is it dangerous, but now they’re messing up the other lane of traffic too.”
Although both concrete companies deny spilling any concrete in recent months, representatives from each say they are willing to pitch in on additional clean-up efforts.
Those efforts, however, will be moot unless DPW officials keep up their end of the bargain, according to Centerline Concrete owner Eric Tillett.
“For us to go out there and dig up more road will make things worse,” said Tillett. “We’re ready to do our share and we’re ready to get back out there but we need to have Public Works come out right after us or it’s going to be more dangerous.”
DPW officials — who have been busy paving King’s Hill Road and Bethany Lower Road — won’t be able to make it out to the East End until their dump truck is fixed, explained Deputy Director Wade.
“We’re going to patch that area with asphalt as soon as we get another truck in,” Wade said. “We haven’t forgotten that road out there. I’m expecting to get the truck back next week after they put a transmission in.”
“It’s foolish to go out there with one load of asphalt when you have such a large area to do,” Wade continued.
Problem Isn’t Going Away
While DPW plans to address Longmat Hill in the next week or so, the problems with the steep hill will continue as long as construction on the East End continues, according to Wade.
“Everyone keeps getting on us about it, but it’s not a quick fix,” he said. “As long as the concrete trucks keep going out there, there are going to be problems. We’re going to keep having to get it cleaned up and then it’s going to take asphalt up.”
“So this problem isn’t going to go away,” he added.
Stiff penalties should be on the books to discourage concrete companies from spilling in the first place, according to Beckowitz.
Government Should Get Involved
“Other jurisdictions have statutes that highly discourage concrete companies from making messes,” said Beckowitz. “We do have some here in the V.I. but they are limited so we need to create more. If the concrete companies aren’t going to be responsible we need to make it in their best interest to be.”
It’s absurd that individual residents have to deal with what is basically an infrastructure problem, Beckowitz added.
“One of my gross disappointments is that as much as we have all gone to the government and asked for help, it’s been a year and a half and now the road is much worse,” she said. “Why are a group of citizens having to deal with this when it is an infrastructure issue and a public safety issue. It shouldn’t be for the public to fight, it should be for the public officials to do their jobs.”
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