A section of Centerline Road near the Estate Upper Carolina subdivision, left, initially damaged more than three years ago, has been passable in only one lane for more than six months.
More than three years after a portion of Centerline Road was undermined — and following months of promises from the Department of Public Works — nothing has been done to stop the island’s sole road connecting Cruz Bay and Coral Bay from continuing to crumble.
As heavy rains lashed St. John last week many residents feared Centerline Road would be washed out completely.
“The work was supposed to be started in October and the funds were supposedly in place,” said one resident who commutes from Coral Bay to Cruz Bay on Centerline Road. “I feel enraged and lied to. And it’s really scary especially with all the rain we’ve been having.”
Several sections of Centerline Road and at least one section of Fish Bay Road were undermined by heavy rains during Tropical Storm Otto in October 2010. DPW crews on St. John placed orange cones near the worst sections of Centerline Road and Fish Bay Road as officials applied for Federal Highway Administration funds to fix the roadway.
Two years of delays were blamed on the lengthy FHA applications process, according to DPW Commissioner Darryl Smalls.
Heavy rains this past May sent a section of Centerline Road near the Estate Upper Carolina subdivision tumbling down the Carolina Valley hillside. Since then, the partially blind corner has been passable only in one lane.
Following months of pleas and petitions, in July DPW officials installed signage and speed bumps on either side of the compromised roadway and erected a berm around the crumbling section of Centerline Road.
DPW’s plans, specifications and estimates for the road repair project were finally approved by FHA on May 23. Bid packages for the estimated $1 million project were issued in mid-June and initially due by July 16. That deadline was extended an extra 60 days and DPW finally chose Island Roads as the contractor in August.
Sometime during the three year process of completing the FHA application, the Fish Bay Road section seems to have been scrapped from the overall project.
DPW Commissioner Smalls pledged that work on the crumbling section of Centerline Road would begin no later than the end of October, a date which passed with no sign of road repair activity.
In early November, Smalls blamed the delay on unspecified legal issues with the government contract.
“I had anticipated that the contract would have been signed and executed but there was a legal issue that has now been resolved,” DPW Commissioner Smalls said the first week of November.
At that time, the DPW Commissioner said the contract would be executed “any day.”
“I anticipate the contract to be executed and signed any day,” Smalls said the first week of November.
“The contractor knows the importance of the project and has a number of items in place so he can get started as soon as possible.”
Despite those assertions, the month of November passed with no sign of repairs to Centerline Road and no explanation for the delay from DPW.
Following multiple phone calls from St. John Tradewinds, on Wednesday, December 4, Smalls said the contract was finally ready to be executed.
“The contract is fine; I just need to tell you when they’re going to start,” Smalls said, and asked to be called later when he had more information.
Subsequent phone calls to Smalls from St. John Tradewinds were not returned by the DPW
Commissioner and as of press time there was still no sign of work on Centerline Road.
At this point many residents are simply fed up with DPW.
“This is infuriating to me,” said a resident who asked to not be identified. “They said the money was there and they said they would start this work months ago. They’ve just been lying to us over and over again.”
Senator at Large Craig Barshinger’s office has been logging in-coming complaints about the condition of Centerline Road and DPW’s stalling since February 2012, according to the senator.
Barshinger’s office made a formal request to DPW for the status of road repairs on February 14, 2012. The office received no reply from DPW.
At a Committee on Finance meeting on September 24, 2012, Barshinger questioned Smalls on the record regarding what was at that time eight months of run-around about Centerline Road repairs.
Again the senator got nowhere.
“On September 24 2012, I confronted [DPW] Commissioner Smalls in Chambers, on the record, regarding the eight months of run-around, informing him that the log of attempts to obtain information by a senator on behalf of the public was not complimentary to the DPW,” said Barshinger. “He [Smalls] asked for a copy of that log. We supplied it in St. Thomas Chambers in under 10 minutes.”
“After that Finance hearing, he nonetheless continued to ignore the requests,” said Barshinger.
The Senator at Large, a St. John resident, knows full well the importance of Centerline Road, which is vital to residents in Coral Bay for work, school, worship, emergency services and more.
“We have repeatedly pointed out that the washed out portion of Route 10, Centerline Road, is a hazard on a daily basis, with the potential to wash out in a flood, leaving it impassable,” said Barshinger.
The next step might be for the Legislature to subpoena Smalls to answer questions about the project delays, according to the Senator at Large.
“My office has kept up the pressure, but he [Smalls] has broken promise after promise for information and action,” said Barshinger. “I have written to Senator Capehart, suggesting that the next step is a subpoena to appear before the Committee on Government Operations — of which she is chair and I’m vice-chair — to respond under oath to questions about roads and striping territory-wide.”
A date for that meeting has not yet been set, Barshinger added.
In the meantime, residents continue to fear for the condition of Centerline Road as repairs continue to be delayed without explanation.”
“Look at this rain,” said one Coral Bay resident. “It’s scary and it’s infuriating.”