The grant was announced Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who arrived at St. Croix's Henry E. Rohlsen Airport for a whirlwind tour of transportation projects in the territory, accompanied by Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen.
The grant will offer a range of incentives to encourage an airline to begin low-fare service from New York or other key destinations on the U.S. mainland.
Communities receiving the grants must have insufficient air service, unreasonably high air fares, and/or geographic diversity, as well as meet priority considerations, such as local cash contributions, established public/private partnerships, material benefits to the general public and timely use of grant funds.
“I have no doubt that, not only will this money be well spent, but that it will provide opportunities for airlines to fly in and out from across different parts of the U.S. and the world,” LaHood said.
St. Croix is one of the 33 communities in 25 states/territories across the country receiving a total of $13.9 million under the program. Officials said the funds will be used to develop risk-sharing/incentive programs to improve commercial air service between St. Croix and the U.S. mainland.
“This will help St. Croix improve its air service between the island and the mainland and will assist our ongoing efforts to make this island a more attractive destination for travelers,” deJongh said, adding that such incentives also provide a boost to the local economy.
The governor and Christensen took LaHood on a tour of transportation projects being supported by federal dollars, and the long-awaited Christiansted bypass was first on the list. First conceived of in the 1970s, the project sat on a drawing board for decades before work began in 2007. Now the opening is projected before the end of the year.
When completed, the project will provide an alternative to motorists seeking to avoid bumper-to-bumper, rush hour traffic in downtown Christiansted while crossing between east and west on the island.
The group later visited the Long Bay road project on St. Thomas to see firsthand how federal dollars that are pumped into the territory are spent.
DeJongh said this was an opportunity for LaHood to see firsthand many of the transportation challenges as well as the progress have made on key projects funded by the federal programs.
“Secretary LaHood’s visit is timely, given the progress that we are making on the bypass project on St. Croix and at Long Bay, St. Thomas,” deJongh said. “I am pleased that he had the chance to see how this territory embraced the ARRA funding made available to move these two projects along.”
The governor said both of these projects have changed the dynamics of the islands, alleviating traffic congestion and providing new infrastructure for residents and visitors.
In his remarks, LaHood commended the deJongh administration and Public Works Commissioner Darryl A. Smalls for the progress made on both projects.
“There is no question that I will be recommending the commitment of additional funds to the Virgin Islands as I am confident that federally funded projects will be completed timely and properly," he said.
Christensen said the secretary’s visit was important to the territory.
“The territory continues to experience an unprecedented economic crisis and with the closure of the Hovensa refinery in St. Croix, and the secretary’s visit reassures our community that the issues, concerns and challenges of the U.S. territories continue to be important to the federal government," she said.
“For the Virgin Islands, in particular, the high cost of inter-island travel, the need for more public transportation and other related issues, are of great concern to our residents,” Christensen said.
“The secretary’s presence signals that these are his concerns and that of the administration of President Obama.”