Now that the long-standing Veteran’s Drive improvement proposal has cleared another permitting hurdle, Department of Public Works officials said this week that they are putting the first phase of the project out to bid in June.
During a groundbreaking recently held for the ongoing Turpentine Run project on St. Thomas, Public Works Commissioner Gustav James announced that the environmental plan for Veteran’s Drive had been approved by the Federal Highway Administration, opening the door for the Army Corps of Engineers to approve an environmental permit.
Speaking to the Source Tuesday, Public Works’ Highway Program Manager Jomo McClean said that the first phase would be put out to bid in June, with proposals being solicited for work done from Lovers Lane to Hospital Gade, near the Fort Christian parking lot.
The proposal currently calls for the widening of the lanes from Long Bay (at the back end of Yacht Haven Grande) to Hospital Gade, which will allow for two lanes running each way. Asked about the other environmental impacts, McClean said that there would be some, particularly with the transplanting of coral and seagrass beds needed for the filling of land from the waterside on in. McLean said that there will be minimal traffic impact because once the fill is done, Public Works is going to shift work to the new road and existing lanes.
“There’s also positive environmental growth,” McClean said. “There’s a lot of run off and silt that comes from the hills, so while there will be some transplanting, it’s mostly cans and silt that sits on the bottom that we’re removing as a part of this.”
Phase one of the project is estimated to cost between $30 and $40 million, which McClean said is coming from federal Grant Anticipation Revenue (GARVEE) bond proceeds authorized by the Public Finance Authority board in 2015. At last week’s Turpentine Run groundbreaking, Federal Highway Associate Administrator Michael Avery said that $105 million bond issues will also allow for several other local projects. Asked Tuesday, McClean said the bond proceeds cover eight other projects on St. Croix.
Phase two of the project includes the construction of a road going around the Legislature, which tries to preserve the coastline. Funding for that phase, McClean said, is still to be determined.
McClean added that Public Works has committed to finishing up several other projects, including the long-standing Main Street enhancement project, which has been halted and could take up to another year to complete. Public Works Commissioner James was put in the hot seat a few months ago by Federal Highway Administration officials who questioned the legality of the security bond obtained by contractor Tip Top Construction for the project, and was forced to issue a stop order, which caused further delay.
While the legality issues were cleared up, and the stop order lifted, James has not said when work on Main Street will continue. The project was initially slated to be finished last June.
“There were a series of delays outside of just construction that were procedural,” McClean said. “All of those have been addressed at this time so now it’s on the contractor. But the commissioner stated that he is committed to having the project done by May of next year.”
In the more immediate future, McClean said that the department is actively working to clear up potholes that have formed as a result of roadwork on the highway running through Subbase, adjacent to the Gottlieb gas station and Banco Popular.
“The road was melted in preparation for paving but there were some problems getting asphalt, so contractors, since Friday, have actually patched the potholes that have started to come up,” McClean said. “And once the new asphalt is mixed, we will get in there and fix the road. It shouldn’t be more than a week to two weeks before it’s finished.”