Home Commentary Op-ed LET NATIONAL GUARD RESPOND TO ROADS DISASTER

LET NATIONAL GUARD RESPOND TO ROADS DISASTER

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Gov. Charles W. Turnbull should give serious thought to calling out the V.I. National Guard. Sometime today would be nice.
The territory's roads are lifelines of the populace. Driving, taking public transportation or walking, we have no choice but to rely on them to get from point A to point B. At the moment, many of them are far from reliable. They are in a perilous state and getting worse with each successive heavy rain, such as the deluge dumped on St. Thomas last evening (Thursday, Dec. 2).
We are talking more than potholes here — although potholes deep enough and wide enough to entrap automobiles constitute a problem in need of immediate attention. But if there were only potholes, we might well muddle through the puddles to the next dry season.
The great problem across the territory now, it appears, is that the islands' roadside drainage systems are not functioning. Water had been standing for days on Smith Bay Road by the entrance to the Renaissance Grand Beach Resort before the skies opened up again yesterday. In such circumstances, motorists must move at a snail's pace, maneuvering left and right in the expectation that oncoming traffic will wait its turn, and in the hope that their axles will emerge intact from sudden clunks into hidden potholes. Standing water can take much of the blame for the proliferation of the very potholes themselves.
The Renaissance location, by the way, is irrelevant. While we might perhaps feel shame that our coveted overnight visitors should have to go through the water every time they drive in and out of the resort, the greater horror story is that thousands of local motorists, day after day, must do the same.
Elsewhere on well-traveled St. Thomas routes today, there was still standing water across from Tutu Park Mall at the intersection leading to Turpentine Run; in the gut between sidewalk and roadway in Havensight, and on the shoulder between curb and asphalt on Long Bay Road.
The run-off problem may be attributable to the after-effects of Hurricanes Lenny and Jose. The cause, however, is irrelevant, too. If drains are clogged, they need to be cleaned. To repeat, sometime today would be nice.
At 5:45 p.m. yesterday, as darkness and a relatively gentle rain fell, I left the Fort Christian Museum to drive to Sub Base for a meeting. I never made it. After inching along for half an hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Veterans Drive, circumventing two stalled vehicles along the way, I was at the Addelita Cancryn/Banco Popular intersection, trapped on all sides in the kind of vehicular gridlock that I have not seen anywhere else but in Buenos Aires.
Harwood Highway, still blocked off by plastic pylons into single lanes in each direction, was, of course, flooded to boot. In the dark, not knowing what lay ahead, drivers were desperate to find an alternative to running the gauntlet. Scores streamed into Frenchtown where, in the maze of small, one-way streets, they only became further trapped. By 6:50 I had turned around in the Coca-Cola docks area and, having held my breath as others gunned their engines going the wrong way in the adjacent lane, made my way back to the highway intersection, where I turned right and headed back toward town.
In the rain, in the dark, it was, in a word, chaos.
The only saving grace was that the drivers — every one that I came in contact with — kept their tempers under control.
In the midst of all this, not one police officer was to be seen to direct traffic, help remove stranded vehicles or issue citations to the few drivers driven relatively berserk. Of course, they may have been stuck trying to get through the outer edges of the traffic jam to do so.
The police, however, as we must all know, do not have the personnel to deal with the massive transit troubles that now beset us. And one must assume that Public Works is not in a position to take care of the drainage problems, or surely they would have done so by now. One more deluge and. . . what?
The problem is territorywide. The toll is high — hours lost each day in transit, stress accumulated on the way, damage inflicted on vehicles, and the psychological after-effects to drivers, passengers, and those counting on their arrival at the appointed time.
We do not need to go crying to FEMA, hat in hand, for help on this one. We have the V.I. National Guard in place to provide just such help in an emergency to the community it serves. We are already in a state of emergency, imposed by the governor as Hurricane Lenny neared. The governor should call the guard unit up and put it to work clearing and repairing drains, improving run-off diversion systems where necessary, and helping to handle traffic caught in the mess until it's fixed.
Today. Before it rains again.
Jean Etsinger, a freelance journalist for 17 years in the Virgin Islands, is a contributing editor to the Source newspapers.

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