July 27, 2005 After arriving about 45 minutes late Wednesday to address the weekly Rotary II luncheon at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, acting Public Works Commissioner George Phillips took the next few minutes to describe road conditions which contributed to his late arrival.
"First, I drove by the Crown Bay development, and I wondered how traffic will be there later this year when it is open for business," Phillips said. "Traffic will increase both from town shoppers and from tourists. Then I got delayed again where the No Right Turn sign has been removed near Frenchtown," he added, pausing for a laugh.
Phillips made several references to the controversial sign during his speech. He continued, "Then, there was another traffic jam around the Legislature building, where a road should have been built four years ago, to alleviate this. Then, finally I got held up again before Havensight, at Mandela Circle, where there was an accident."
Adding a bit of humor, he said, "I really should contact the Public Works commissioner about this, then I realized I am the Public Works commissioner."
On a more serious note, Phillips detailed the road projects DPW now has underway. He said $18 million in federal highway funds is being used to create the long-awaited widening of Long Bay Road to a four-lane artery.
Long Bay Road is routinely the scene of some of St. Thomas' worst traffic jams on days when thousands of cruise passengers and crew members disembark at the WICO dock for island tours and shopping in the morning, then head back to the ship in the afternoon.
Phillips described other "ambitious projects" the department is considering. He said plans to make Raphune Hill a four-lane road continuing into Tutu are under consideration. "We are re-evaluating methods of building the roads," he said. "Another idea would be to have an alternate route south from the Frenchman's Bay area to the Tutu area, eliminating going through Havensight."
The Western end of the island is also under consideration for long-term planning, Phillips said. "There is only the one road there now in Bordeaux. In an emergency, and with continued building in that area, that will be a problem."
Likewise, Phillips said Centerline Road, leading from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay on St. John, presents a similar problem. He said there should be an alternate route, especially because in an emergency, Coral Bay has no seaport.
Phillips briefly discussed the government's Vitran Bus system which recently acquired a fleet of new buses as it affects downtown Charlotte Amalie parking problems. He said a second tier of parking places at the Fort Christian lot is a consideration to relieve the problems, but consideration would have to be given to the Carnival Committee, which traditionally uses the lot for Carnival Village each year.
The acting commissioner had some news for commerce on the water. He said the government is considering subsidizing a ferry to travel between St. Thomas and St. Croix, starting this September. "We have been talking to two or three companies," he said. "You can't get a seat on the seaplane without waiting on standby all day," he said. "A ferry is needed, and it would be more affordable."
Then he threw in an idea of his own. Noting the large Puerto Rican population on St. Croix, Phillips said, "Because of that, I am proposing a ferry service to run from Frederiksted to Vieques, Culebra and then to St. Thomas."
Frederiksted is growing, owning to its waterfront development, he said, and the service would be a viable idea.
Concluding his talk, Phillips said his tenure would be up in September. "I am an interim commissioner," he said, "and I want to leave a road map for future commissioners," referring to road plans he had mentioned.
"I don't wish my tenure to be defined by a Right Turn sign," Phillips said. "Sometimes you have to backtrack, you have to involve the community. People stop on the road whenever they feel like it. You have to obey signs."
Phillips said later that the Frenchtown sign issue is in the hands of the Police Department, and a final solution is still under consideration. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis has said he will address the matter in a September meeting, Sgt. Thomas Hannah, police spokesman, said earlier this month.
Asked whether he is planning to seek nomination as commissioner, Phillips smiled. "The governor has to send down my nomination," he said.
Phillips' 180-day tenure expires on Sept. 8.
Phillips replaced former DPW Commissioner Wayne Callwood, whom the governor abruptly removed from the post early this March.
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