Centerline Road, which is falling by bits and pieces into the valley below, should be repaired by March, Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said Tuesday.
Smalls said the project will go out to bid the week of June 17, if not before, and if the bids are “responsive,” they will be evaluated and awarded in July. He said work should start in September.
Over the years, the road faced occasional erosion issues but things really went south in October 2010 when Hurricane Otto passed through. It caused massive undermining of the road in one location and serious erosion and undermining in others.
Although Smalls and his team were working on getting federal funding to make repairs, it hadn’t happened by the time a mid-May heavy rain caused more of the road to fall off.
One lane of Centerline Road in the worst-hit section is now closed, with orange cones marking the effected zone. Residents are concerned that if repairs don’t begin soon, the road will further deteriorate and that, in order to make repairs, the entire road will be closed.
“Every time a big truck goes by, the whole road shakes. It vibrates the road bed and more dirt falls out,” said Pam Gaffin, who lives adjacent to Centerline Road.
Without Centerline Road, Coral Bay is closed to truck traffic since trucks can’t make it up hill through Bordeaux. That is currently the only possible alternative to Centerline Road but it has an unpaved section that gets slippery when wet and it twists and turns far more than Centerline Road.
Those trucks bring Coral Bay food, water and propane as well as other necessities. Additionally, Coral Bay has a large vacation villa market. The road condition has received a lot of attention on several travel forums, with participants expressing concern about their ability to reach their villas.
“All those villas will be out of business,” Gaffin predicted.
Smalls had a team at the site on Tuesday to evaluate the situation at three spots along the road that suffered from the worst problems.
To prevent the huge hole that has narrowed the road to one lane from getting any worse until permanent repairs are made, Alsace T. Dyer, the Federal Highway Administration’s construction manager in the office of highway engineering, said that crews will seal the crack in the road that sits just a few feet from the edge of the abyss. Additionally they will construct an asphalt berm at the edge to divert the water away from hole.
“It will happen right away,” Dyer said.
After Lionel Olive, who serves as the road director at Public Works, suggested installing speed bumps to slow down traffic in the one-way portion of the road, Dyer agreed that would be a good idea. The department will also look for a portable traffic signal to control the flow of traffic.
According to Dyer, the permanent fix includes installation of a concrete retaining wall, backfill and new asphalt. He said he doesn’t anticipate any problems with the job.
“Any contractor could do it,” he said.
The round galvanized drainage area on the inland side of Centerline Road will be replaced with an elliptical concrete one to better direct the flow of water off the hillside.
Close to three years after Otto hit, residents are so fed up that on Monday, Coral Bay resident Beverly Melius stood along the side of Centerline Road near where the worst of the undermining is located to gather signatures on a petition requesting that the Legislature hold a hearing on the road matter. A copy went to Smalls.
“The hole has really grown,” Melius said.
She said she got 255 signatures in just a few hours.
Smalls, in discussing the long delay in getting funding for the Centerline Road repair, said that, initially, the St. John road repairs were bundled with those from other islands. However, the Federal Highway Administration indicated that they had to be separated out.
The application required an environmental assessment report as well as an archeological assessment.
“I had to work within the system. It took too long,” Smalls said.
He said Public Works got approval within the last two weeks to put the project out for bid through the Property and Procurement Department.
Dyer urged drivers who will use Centerline Road during the reconstruction to drive slowly and carefully.