Feb. 12, 2006 – If Public Works Commissioner George Phillips has his way, pedestrians – and even bicyclists – will be able to travel from one end to the other of St. Thomas on sidewalks.
At a meeting Saturday of the North Side Civic Association held at the Dorothea Tot Lot, Phillips said it was his goal to see sidewalks on all V.I. roadways. "You should be able to traverse the entire island on foot," he said.
While addressing issues specific to the North Side, Phillips took the opportunity to also set forth his goals for the territory, including putting utilities underground. He vowed, after the meeting, that whenever new construction was being done on roads, he would make sure the utilities went underground.
"The basic policy is if we have the opportunity to put utilities underground, we will," he said.
Phillips told the dozen members of the civic organization and North Side residents that Public Works would provide the funds to build bathrooms at the tot lot, one of the issues residents wanted addressed. After construction, however, it will be the job of Housing, Parks and Recreation to maintain the facility.
Phillips, who showed up at the meeting with engineering plans to complete repairs on the roadway by the Dorothea garbage bins, said other problem areas are being addressed on the North Side as well.
Phillips said lack of engineers and cooperation from the public are two of the problems he faces in completing the many projects on the books.
He said he has only three engineers directing "millions and millions of dollars in projects." One of them, Wynstan Benjamin, said after the meeting, he has devised a way to keep the projects moving forward.
"I no longer try to get all the designs done and then send them out for bid," Benjamin said.
Instead he said he gets two or three project designs ready and then gets them out for bid.
Another problem, Phillips said, is he only has two asphalt contractors to work with: Better Roads and Island Roads. He has to get in line to get the work done for Public Works when they have time or finish other projects. He said with only two contractors available, "I can't really play hard ball."
Phillips said with $16 million in federal funds available to the territory for road work there was enough to support more contractors and that he would welcome the competition.
Neil Maher, right of way officer for DPW, has other problems. He said when construction involves private property, it is his job to contact the landowners to make arrangements either to purchase the property needed or obtain permission to use it during construction.
On the road work near the garbage bins on Crown Mountain Road, Maher said he has sent out letters to five property owners and had "heard from zero."
Maher said as far as purchasing small parcels for projects that enhance the community oftentimes property owners want to jack up the price. He said he had offered someone $2,000 for a piece of property and they wanted $50,000. "I won't do that," he said. When landowners don't cooperate the department then begins the process of condemnation, Maher said, which can take weeks or months and slows down the entire project.
While the dozen or so North Siders each had their own pet peeves to address, most appeared happy to be heard and to be told work was under way.
Some of the areas of concern for residents were: Spring Road, North Star Village, Magens Bay Estate Road, Route 40 in Misgunst between Hull Bay Road and Drake's Seat and Magens Bay Road.
Phillips said plans were in the works to address structural problems on Spring Road. Benjamin said where the roadway was falling away in Misgunst was in the design phase.
Road striping was also on the priority list for residents, who said they had previously been given a plethora of excuses about why the striping hadn't been done.
"They told us they didn't have any paint," one resident said.
Phillips said he had already put in a request to authorize overtime to play catchup on the striping. "We do have paint now," he laughed.
Ann Arnold, North Side Civic Organization president, said she was heartened to have had Phillips actually show up for the meeting and was delighted that he came with plans in hand and assurances that work was going forward on the projects.
"After four years and several commissioners you are the first one to actually respond to our requests," she said.
Phillips has two more meetings with residents scheduled this week to discuss specific projects. One on St. Croix Sunday and on Wednesday he will meet with residents in Rothschild Francis Market Square to discuss work on the Sanderilla Thomas Bungalow, which is slated to begin shortly.
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