Roads in the U.S. Virgin Islands are deplorable, Sen. Janelle Sarauw told Derek Gabriel the acting commissioner of the Department of Public Works, and several other members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure on Wednesday agreed, pointing to roads in Frederiksted as particular bad.
Gabriel was presenting the committee with a long list of projects on which his department was working, but senators let him know that, though they liked hearing about all the projects being worked on, what they really wanted to hear was about projects completed.
Gabriel admitted residents might find “more patience” when coming upon road and other infrastructure projects unfinished, if, they saw some finished projects.
Sen. Novelle Francis suggested picking some “low hanging fruit” projects to reassure the public that work is getting completed. He mentioned bus shanties in La Reine and Campo Rico on St. Croix and the building at Kramer’s Park. Assistant Commissioner Dennis Brow said the department had completed all the work on bus shanties on government land. He said it was not clear the two shanties mentioned by Francis were the government’s responsibility. Gabriel said the work at Kramer’s Park was making its way through the funding and contractual process but still needed time.
He said the same about another project mentioned often during the meeting – the Community Center in Cruz Bay on St. John. Gabriel said the contract “hopefully” for the building in Cruz Bay would be signed at the beginning of summer.
Sarauw, who chaired the meeting, pointed to roads as one place in desperate need of attention that the public would notice.
Sen. Franklin Johnson said his “heart sinks” every time he goes to Frederiksted and sees the road conditions.
“You cannot leave that town like that for six or seven months,” Franklin said. “People live in these towns. … Let’s make Frederiksted a priority.”
Sen. Genieve Whitaker said she was concerned there might be inequity between the work being done in the different districts in the territory. Sarauw said the disparity she saw was on St. Croix between the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted. She said, “The closer I get to Frederiksted, the worse the roads get.”
Sen. Kurt Vialet suggested that the department road crews could be sent to the states to learn how to do better jobs fixing the roads. He also suggested the five paving companies operating in the territory find ways to upgrade their equipment.
In his testimony, Gabriel said the department was challenged because the department lacked engineers, technical experts, and construction managers. Despite the challenge, the department is managing over 200 disaster recovery projects. He said $68 million to manage the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief projects had been received and $22 million was expended and the balance is reserved for construction projects.
Office of Disaster Recovery Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien also attended the meeting. She shared a breakdown of FEMA funds. Thus far, $52.7 million was obligated to Public Works and $38.8 million has been expended. Management costs were $2.8 million, $47.2 million was utilized for debris removal post-storms, and $2.7 million was for permanent work.
Editor’s note: This story has been edited since it was originally posted to include the correct name of one of the senators involved in the hearing and her contribution to the debate. The Source regrets the error.