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Federal Funds Helping Public Works to Do More Than Just Paving

Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls came before the V.I. Senate with his top staff Thursday to outline his department’s 2011 budget request of $25.9 million–a decrease of 7.8 percent from fiscal year 2010.
Public Works will also receive $225,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to help with projects on St. John, and $300,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund for Carnival festivities across the territory. Of that funding, wages and salaries comprise $8.5 million; fringe benefits $3.3 million; utilities $750,000; supplies $547,000, and $12.8 million in other services and charges.
Currently, Public Works has a workforce of 314 Employees, 97 of which are VITRAN public bus service employees paid out of federal and local subsidies. Personnel costs account for about one-third of the department’s total operating budget, Smalls said.
Smalls anticipates his department will also receive $19 million in federal funds, with $136,000 for salaries and wages, $55,000 in fringe benefits and $18.8 million in capital outlays for various road, drainage and other federally funded projects.
Public Works has also undertaken administering American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds received by the territory. The department’s Capital Improvement Program office oversees 23 active projects right now. Among them are the demolition of the former Toro Building to make way for the Department of Justice’s St. Croix Headquarters—a $16 million project in the final stages of design. On St. Thomas, Public Works is working with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to start building a new library and archive for the territory’s historical and public records. The $14.6 million project is more than three-quarters complete, according to Smalls.
On St. John, construction should begin on a new school by the end of the year, paid for by a Department of Interior grant, he said.
Major work is also being done at Cancryn Junior High School and St. Croix’s Central High School.
Federal funds are helping with more than just roads. Public Works manages the territory’s public transportation, transit system, public parking lots and traffic control devices. In 2009, the Division used three years of Federal Transit Administration grants to buy 12 new buses, helping to replace an aging fleet. And more than 40 bus shelters and bus stop signs are in various phases of construction or planning thanks to $1.3 million in federal stimulus funds.
Also with federal funds, Public Works is in the process of purchasing two ferry boats for the St. John franchise operators, augmenting the current ferry fleet. A $965,000 energy grant awarded this year will pay for the conversion of traffic lights and other luminaries to LED bulbs, and solar light at bus shelters and on the Christiansted Boardwalk. Those upgrades save 75 percent in energy costs at converted traffic intersections.
A multi-modal transportation plan study, launched in 2009, is 85 percent complete. Through meetings with community representatives and objective traffic count data, the study has identified transportation projects for the next two decades.
In advance of Public Works’ appearance before the Legislature, Government House issued a preview of Small’s testimony, summarizing the many projects under way and soon to start. As a crude measurement of work done, Public Works crews have applied 409 tons of asphalt to roads on St. Croix, 417 tons of asphalt on St. Thomas and 160 tons on St. John, according to Government House.

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