Aug. 23, 2002 Right-of-way issues with homeowners have caused months of delay in rebuilding a section of Route 107 and the 700 feet of Route 108 that abuts it, Ira Wade, deputy Public Works commissioner for St. John, said on Friday.
"We're in discussion right now with the Federal Highway Administration in regard to issuing RFP's," Wade said, referring to a request for proposals from contractors wanting to bid on the job.
He said the project is expected to run several million dollars but declined to be more specific.
Wade said 75 people own land along Route 107, and right-of-way permission had to be secured from all of them. He said contacting them all was an arduous process.
Some of the land owners of record were deceased, he said, and their heirs, and in some cases the heirs of the heirs, had to be located. "We had to chase them down," he said. Two pieces of land were condemned, he said.
Last October, FHA officials said construction was expected to start in five months. The delay prompted one off-island owner of land along Route 108 to ask the federal agency why the territory was not taking advantage of the federal money available for the project.
The landowner, Bart Wailes of Rockville, Maryland, said that after learning about the 75 land owners, he had a better understanding of issues on St. John.
"I know enough now to know I don't know what's going on," he said.
In e-mail messages to Wailes, FHA officials said problems with the Public Works Department's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program caused the delays. A recent report of a federal Interior Department audit said the territory failed to meet the federal mandate that 10 percent of federally funded programs go to qualified DBE companies.
Efforts to learn more about plans to bring the territory into compliance were unsuccessful. Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood Jr. did not return a telephone call requesting comment. Wade referred questions on the issue to Sharon Challenger, who heads the DBE program locally. She also did not return a phone call.
The project involves paving Route 107 from Coral Bay to the V.I. National Park road leading to Lameshur Bay. Preliminary work that included solving major drainage problems and installing some swales on Route 107 was finished in 2000.
Route 108 runs from Route 107 near Island Blues Restaurant outside Coral Bay through Bordeaux to Centerline Road. One segment that starts 700 feet from the road's end near Route 107 is paved. It runs uphill for a length equal to several city blocks to connect with a small stretch paved this spring after residents put up around $15,000 to pay for the project.
Residents have complained repeatedly about the section of Route 108 closest to Route 107. It is filled with deep ruts and large boulders. Two years ago, residents trucked dirt from a construction project in Coral Bay to the road in an attempt to make it safer to drive on.
While paving the 700 feet of Route 108 closest to Route 107 will solve those problems, people with property beyond where the paving now ends still face treacherous going.
The road is paved where it meets Centerline Road near the Bordeaux Overlook. Wade said an additional 0.8 mile of that road is slated for paving in the near future.
Bid opening is scheduled for Sept. 17.
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