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HomeNewsArchives$16.3 MILLION FOR LESS THAN ONE MILE OF HIGHWAY

$16.3 MILLION FOR LESS THAN ONE MILE OF HIGHWAY

The chamber responds to John Woods editorial that appeared in the Daily News on May 20,1999.
Highway Plan 8 (a proposed four-lane highway to be partially built into the Charlotte Amalie harbor) does not address the serious island-wide traffic congestion which impacts the access into and around Charlotte Amalie. Instead, it focuses on moving traffic along less than a mile of road on the waterfront (between Lovers Lane Intersection and Tolbod Gade just west of Fort Christian).
In addition, we believe the proposed budget to build Plan 8, projected at $9.6 million, is significantly underestimated and makes no provision for landscaping, street lighting, signalization at intersections or other amenities promised to the public.
Even more serious, however, is the permanent visual and economic damage that Plan 8 would do to the historic town of Charlotte Amalie and its harbor. Parsons Brinckerhoff (the engineering firm currently contracted to design Plan 8) is the same firm hired by the city of Boston to design and engineer a project to bury Boston¹s Central Artery, a highway that has separated that city from its harbor for years.
This project was originally estimated to cost taxpayers $2.5 billion but has now passed $11 billion and is the largest public works project in the U.S. It is several years beyond its completion date and is still not completed. Projects such as Plan 8 are inherently complex and costly and while Plan 8 is a much smaller scale project, it has many similarities to the Boston project. If Plan 8 were to be built, could we withstand substantial increases in its costs and length of time to construct? Could we survive the loss of business and tax revenues that the businesses adjacent to the construction area would suffer during a protracted period
of construction? How accurate are the projected costs and benefits of Plan 8? Parsons Brinckerhoff¹s original cost estimate for design of Plan 8 was $1 million. To date they have collected fees of $2.7 million for design of Plan 8 and have requested an additional $4 million to develop partial construction documents.
If there is a proportional relationship between the cost of design ($6.7 million), and the cost to build the project ($9.6 million), it would seem to us that the cost to construct Plan 8 is far too low. It also seems to be too low if we compare the cost of constructing Plan 8 to the $7 million cost of work recently done to construct minor "improvements" to the Waterfront highway. The Historic Preservation Commission seems to have justified part of its support of Plan 8 on the basis of reconnecting the Fort and the Legislature Building. However, they seem to have lost sight of the more vital connection between the harbor and the entire Historic District of Charlotte Amalie. In San Francisco, Portland, and Boston, city officials and citizens have realized how valuable the connection is between a city and its waterfront. As a result, they have invested millions, even billions, of dollars to reconnect their cities to their waterfronts by removing highways that had once severed that connection.
The reconnection of these waterfronts has attracted investment of large sums of both public and private funds for restoration, renovation and revitalization along these harbors. The Boston project is a good example of the kind of economic activity that restoration of waterfronts can generate. Many documents which support this type of project are technical in nature and often interpreted by specialists to support their particular point of view. Case in point; in Mr. Woods editorial which appeared in the Daily News, he refers to information taken from an "Origin and Destination Survey" completed by Parsons Brinckerhoff in March 1995. The purpose of such a survey, as it states, is to find out where people are coming from, and where they are going. Mr. Woods stated that 80% of the respondents to the survey used Veterans Drive as part or all of their trip. This seems to be a large number. However, if one reads the document carefully, one would see that it actually states: -Out of a population of 48,000 people (1990 Census), 25,000 were sent the survey, and of those 25,000 people, 1,519 (3%) responded. -Of those 1,519 people, 395 (26%) used Route 30 which extends from Fortuna to Bovoni for trips on a daily basis. -Of the 395 people that take trips on Route 30 on a daily basis, 316 (80%) used Veterans Drive as part or all of their trip. ( What is the point of all of this data? One of the conclusions of the survey used to justify Plan 8 is based on only 3% of the population responding to the questionnaire, and the 80% of those respondents that Mr. Woods refers to actually represent less than 1% of the islands total population. This does not mean that we do not have traffic problems. What is in question is the solutions to these problems. St. Thomas is at a critical stage in its infrastructure development. Major waterfront transportation decisions are being made, that we believe will negatively impact the Historic District, without the benefit of a Comprehensive Transportation Plan or Comprehensive Development Plan for this area.
Instead, there is a piecemeal approach to road building which for example, does not make provision for pedestrian sidewalks, or give adequate attention to beautification and safety issues.
Highway projects throughout the territory are constructed with little or no consideration of the impact that increased speeds and increased traffic will have on the economy, the visual environment, and the quality of life of our community. The four-lane highway project known as Plan 8 is an example of this type of planning. The Chamber of Commerce's position does not ignore the seriousness of our island's traffic problems. On the contrary, the goal of the chamber is to address all of these problems without destroying Charlotte Amalie¹s world-class harbor which has the potential of rivaling many other waterfronts in the world.
The chamber has a specific list of recommendations for solving some of our traffic problems and believes that these recommendations will substantially relieve the congestion in and around Charlotte Amalie. To accomplish this goal, we as a community need to adopt a larger vision for the historic town of Charlotte Amalie, its harbor and the island of St. Thomas. In conclusion, the Chamber of Commerce has consulted with an expert on federal highway funds and has learned that there are a variety of opportunities to use federal funds to solve our traffic problems creatively and productively while at the same time improving the quality of life for our community.
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas has the potential to be a world-class destination. Let us work together to make it happen. Thomas B. Brunt III Immediate Past President, St. Thomas St. John Chamber of Commerce

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