Around 1980, Mary Busenberg, Annette Foy, Rudolph Chinnery, myself and a couple of other volunteers went out for three days from 6 to 10 a.m. to count cars coming into the downtown Charlotte Amalie area from Raphune Hill and from Havensite. At each of the two sites, one person checked each vehicle, another counted how many persons were in each vehicle, and a third checked whether the vehicle was a car, van, bus or truck. The cost was minimal and the information was vastly more useful than that gained by the use of electronic counting-strips laid across roadbeds — which record only the number of passing vehicles.
We were astounded by the numbers we came up with: More than 11,000 vehicles each morning entering the town from the east by two of the only three existing east-west routes. And this was two decades ago. For years, Delegate Ron de Lugo utilized our data again and again to supplement studies made by professional groups hired by our Public Works Department at a cost of anywhere from $200,000 to $2 million.
These hired outsiders would spend six months studying our roads to determine first where to lay their counting strips! Hundreds of thousands of dollars of our highway funds were consumed to learn what any local traffic cop or Public Works employee knows. Public Works, if it had confidence in itself, could do such studies in-house and save money for investing in our road system instead of exporting funds for "expert"-elaborated data.
Today again, three-member teams with well-organized check sheets placed at key points could easily gather the data we need in a few days. If we monitor the points cited above plus Mafolie Road above the three turn-offs, Fireburn Hill, Harwood Highway west of Nisky and the Crown Mountain Road intersection at Nisky Center, we can obtain accurate numbers of vehicles and passengers moving into town daily. Adding in the lesser traffic generated out of Estate Thomas, Lower Contant, Altona-Demerara and the Savan would give us a realistic picture that no outside study has ever provided. And we could do it at little cost by using current government employees with irreplaceable local knowledge.
Two decades ago, the survey we carried out convinced me of the priority need for another route into Charlotte Amalie from the east and better access from the east to the hospital, along with the logic of an east-west, mid-mountain town-bypass road.
Now, more than ever, we need a mid-mountain highway that bypasses town. Ideally we need another route to town from the Tutu area midway between the Donoe Bypass and the Raphune Hill road, another route to the hospital from the east. From the hospital, it should continue north of the Charlotte Amalie High School. It should pickup existing roadway in Hospital Ground north of the Knud Hansen facility and continue on existing road to Fireburn Hill. Some bridge work would be necessary to get to the John Dunkoe area. From there, existing road across Contant near the Old Mill could serve as a basis for improvement as far as the airport area.
This is a viable and preferable option to "Plan 8," which would have a four-lane roadway built around the harbor side of the Legislature Building and east to Long Bay. The monstrousness of an expanded waterfront highway is all in the cutting off of the town from the sea. The pretty parks added as a sweetener by the Plan 8 lobbyists should be built, regardless. Beautification of the area around Fort Christian and the historic Danish Transfer grounds by the Legislature Building do not need any justification or tie-in to a bad project that has been resisted by this community for more than 30 years.
The additional error of expanding our dependence on a seaside highway is the high risk that hurricanes, earthquake and tidal wave pose in our area. Such a road could be put out of commission by nature's force, throwing double traffic onto Skyline Drive. It is dangerous to cross Veterans Drive already.
With the 1950s construction of the landfill apron and four-lane highway, we have lost much more. Before it was built, hundreds of little bateaux that the children of the town made themselves were in the harbor daily. The road "improvements" cut our people off from the sea and closed a "highway" to an area of obvious opportunity. What we need is pedestrian areas. car-free areas, so the present road can be safely traversed by one and all. I have seen in Nice and in Cannes, France, tunnels that carry the cars underground for 60 yards at a time, creating traffic- free crossings so as not to shut the townspeople off from the sea.
One more point: At night, from a boat in mid-harbor, one can see the street lights indicating the presence of roads in the hills. There are several sections of existing roadway in the mountains, such as at Skyline Drive, that are perhaps no more than a hundred yards from roads into Hospital Ground. Such is also the case well past the Savan and the Altona-Demerara and Lower Contant area.
Inexpensive connecting links for these roads could multiply access to town from the North Side and permit people to go more directly to their destinations, thereby reducing crosstown traffic. A mid-mountain road could in most cases link these existing local roads into a more efficient system.
Editor's note: Michael Paiewonsky is a third-generation St. Thomian who has devoted much time to the study of local history and socio-economic development.