July 21, 2005 — Senators and residents were outraged on Wednesday when acting Public Works Commissioner George Phillips failed to show up to a public hearing about the No Right Turn sign in Frenchtown, which he authorized in early June.
The sign, which has been a constant cause of controversy for Frenchtown residents, prohibits a right turn at the intersection between Veterans Drive and Altona. This effectively blocks one of two entrances into Frenchtown and forces eastbound traffic to make detours in order to gain access to the area. (See "Frenchtown Residents Decry Blocked Access to Their Town".)
Phillips has also been under fire from residents after DPW erected additional signs changing the 40-year-old traffic flow pattern through Frenchtown. Under this plan, cars would move from south to northa problem when daily activities already accommodate a north-to-south traffic flow (See "No End in Sight for Frenchtown Sign Controversy".)
"Commissioner Phillips refuses to come before the Senate to talk about these decisionsthis is the arrogant attitude that he has been displaying ever since he's been elected to this position," Sen. Louis P. Hill said.
Since all signs were installed without the consultation of Frenchtown residents, Hill added that Phillips "should have been a little more sensitive" before implementing measures without a proper impact study done to address local concerns.
Senators were equally astounded to hear from testifiers that Phillips, DPW staff, and the Department of Public Safety have not been effectively working together on this matter, and have instead confused themselves as to who is implementing what measures.
Testifiers said that:
–Public Safety, which has jurisdiction over such traffic matters, was not consulted when the first sign was installed;
— New signs boasting traffic-flow changes were installed by DPW staff without the consent of Phillips
–Public Safety said that the No Right Turn sign would be covered until the Frenchtown community was properly educated about the sign and its effects, but keeps changing dates for residential meetings;
–Additionally, Public Safety said that the No Right Turn sign restriction would be implemented by July 11, but that date has changed several times as well.
"With all this confusion, we don't know what's going on," said Henry Richardson, President of the Frenchtown Civic Organization. "Everybody keeps changing dates, times they don't know who's doing what. What are we [the Frenchtown community] supposed to do in the meantime?"
Sent to represent Phillips at the hearing, Deputy Commissioner of Transportation Verne C. Callwood, could not provide many answers to concerns posed.
"The commissioner said that on the issue of the Frenchtown sign, his position remains the samehe wants the no right turn restriction to be implemented permanently due to rising safety concerns for traffic in the area," Callwood said.
Callwood added that officials from the Federal Highway Administration have noticed accidents "almost happening" at the intersection, and recommended that DPW institute a no right turn restriction. Callwood also spoke of two deaths that have occurred because of traffic buildups in the area. "One was a Public Works official, a garbage hauler, that was run down at the intersection," Callwood said.
These claims were shot down by testimony from Frenchtown resident Alphonse J. Stalliard, who said that the employee was killed because he was crossing the street drunk at night. "If you're going to tell people things, at least get your facts straight everybody has been telling lies, including George Phillips. There is no plan here he is making all the decisions his planning department didn't even know he was making any of these changes," Stalliard said.
Stalliard, a longtime Frenchtown resident, added that he can see the intersection from his house and claimed that only four accidents had occurred there within the last four years. "But accidents happen everywhere people should be more concerned about the frequent deaths that occur on the waterfront because everybody is speeding way beyond the limit," Stalliard said.
Stalliard, joined by many fellow residents at the hearing, told senators that DPW should put a traffic light and turn lane at the intersection instead.
"Commissioner Phillips said that he would take this into consideration, talk to the Department of Public Safety about it, and get back to us we haven't heard from him. In fact, he hasn't returned any calls from Frenchtown residents since the No Right Turn sign was put up," Richardson said.
Resolute on hearing testimony from Phillips and Public Safety Commissioner Elton Lewis, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg brought forth a motion to subpoena the two's testimony at another meeting on August 2. All senators present voted for the subpoena and indicated that Phillips' actions have decreased his chance of being sworn into office as full commissioner.
"I don't think there's a senator here who is willing to cast a positive vote for him right now," Donastorg said.
Donastorg added that Phillips was invited to testify at the hearing over two weeks ago but didn't submit a response until less than two hours before the hearing was supposed to happen.
Senators present and voting for the subpoena on Wednesday were Donastorg, Liston Davis, Hill, and Juan Figueroa-Serville.
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