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Traffic Is No Laughing Matter, Says Lewis

March 23, 2005 – The troubled Motor Vehicle Bureau was a major topic of discussion during a Senate Government Operations and Consumer Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
The hearing, which took place on St. Thomas, was called to take testimony on transportation and motor vehicle issues from V.I. Police Department and Public Works Department officials.
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis told the committee the MVB was suffering from the same ailments that it has faced in previous years – insufficient personnel, supplies and equipment; inadequate facilities, poor management, outdated technology and general lack of attention.
Lewis said some progress was being made. He said the department was steadily working on making the bureau's temporary staff permanent, and was approximately 75 percent complete in that process.
Lewis noted the lack of adequate equipment, which has led to the suspension of services to the territory's residents, and said the department was working to address those problems.
"We have replaced the data processing equipment damaged in flooding on St. Thomas in November 2003 with new equipment; however, until we are able to either relocate the motor vehicle bureau from its Sub Base location, or find some way of mitigating the location's propensity to flood, I will not authorize placement of valuable equipment in harm's way," Lewis said. "In my opinion, it would be irresponsible to do so."
Lewis said the U.S. Department of Justice has awarded the Police Department a $280,000 grant, which will allow him to replace the department's automation hardware and software.
NASCO Corporate Finance Consultants, an Economic Development Commission beneficiary, has also donated two printers to the department for the drivers' license system.
"Regardless of the advances in the automation, if a maintenance program is not funded to maintain and routinely upgrade the automated systems within the Motor Vehicle Bureau or anywhere in the department for that matter, we will be right back in the same position in very short order," Lewis said.
Lewis urged the senators to set aside at least 10 percent of the revenues generated by the MVB towards the bureau for maintenance, continued upgrades and implementation of new services, to include the issuance of non-driver personal identification cards.
Under questioning by Sen. Louis P. Hill, Lawrence Olive, Motor Vehicle Bureau director, said the bureau was inspected by the Fire Services and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and audited by the Inspector General Office. The Fire Services report revealed that the bureau had numerous violations, including a missing fire extinguisher and inoperable smoke detectors. Olive said recommendations for corrective action have already been addressed.
Lewis also testified on the problem of traffic congestion in the territory. The police commissioner said traffic congestion was not a major problem on St. Croix and St. John at this time as it is on St. Thomas, but warned "if we fail to strategically plan and implement improvements to our transportation infrastructure to meet today's growing demands," the dilemma faced on St. Thomas could occur on the other two islands.
"This condition is no joking matter nor a mild inconvenience," Lewis said. "Traffic congestion impedes emergency response vehicles. Of paramount concern is the fear that insufficient alternate and emergency evacuation routes may lead to catastrophic results."
Lewis said traffic conditions and resulting "fender benders" are also the source of much frustration and have sometimes led to road rage and violence.
The police department has resorted to placing officers at busy intersections, such as the Tutu Mall area, to assist in directing traffic during peak rush hours, Lewis told the senators. He encouraged the public to use alternate routes whenever possible, and to take public transportation.
This led to comments about the almost non-existent public transit system in the Virgin Islands.
Verne Callwood Jr., Public Works deputy commissioner for transportation, said the department was working on re-establishing VITRAN as a viable public transportation system.
In response to a question posed by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg about the current focus of the Public Works Department, Callwood said the department is focusing on repairing main and by-pass roads; conducting a study assessing the need and locations for new roads; studying the impact of taxi operations and identifying areas for long-term parking in Charlotte Amalie, and re-establishing VITRAN.
Sen. Terrance "Positive" Nelson asked why the roads that were recently repaired were deteriorating.
Roan Creque, Public Works St. Thomas -Water Island deputy commissioner, said it was because the roads were simply "patched" rather than "overlaid." Creque pledged the department would identify funding to ensure that the overlaying of roads be the primary means of road repairs.
Ann Durante Arnold and Jason Budsan, members of the Northside Civic Organization, expressed their displeasure with Public Works' failure to repair roads on that side of the island. They showed pictures on a monitor screen of the Northside roads.
Arnold said former Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood had promised to repair the federal highway Route 33, which runs through Dorothea, by January of this year at a previous hearing. However, the road has not been repaired to this date.
"This road is a disaster waiting to happen," Arnold said.
Arnold said the area was also in need of sidewalks, properly placed road signs and clearly designated crosswalks for children.
Committee members present at the hearing were: Donastorg, Liston A. Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, and Nelson. Sen. Ronald Russell was excused. Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., who is not a committee member, was also present.
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