March 20, 2003 – Through various administrations, Public Works Department planners and engineers have had their turns at trying to ease traffic at one of the most congested stretches on St. Thomas — the Long Bay Road area between the Havensight cruise ship dock and downtown Charlotte Amalie.
The road regularly sees some of St. Thomas's worst traffic jams on days when cruise ship unload thousands of passengers for island tours and shopping in the morning, only to have them all head back to the ship in the afternoon.
The road also is a conduit for resident commuters — coming to work from the highly populated eastern half of the island in the morning and returning home in the afternoon, or heading east from town to mid-island shopping centers or the ferry dock at Red Hook.
Three busy arteries converge at Mandela Circle — the road from town, the one from the cruise ship dock and the one linking downtown to the Pueblo supermarket, Vitraco Mall, Lockhart Gardens, Wheatley Shopping Center, the hospital and the main post office — as well as the road leading east up Raphune Hill. Plus there are two large housing communities, Paul M. Pearson Gardens and Oswald Harris Court, with hundreds of residents.
Put 'em all together on four wheels or more, and you've got a mess.
The latest proposal for traffic relief, announced in a release on Wednesday by Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood, calls for widening Long Bay Road to four lanes between Mandela Circle and the Lover's Lane intersection by the Lucinda Millin Home. The four-lane road would split into two directions at the circle, leading to Havensight and along Centerline Road to First Avenue.
To some, this sounds suspiciously like part of "Plan 8," a proposal from the mid-1990s that involved wrapping a widened Veterans Drive around the shoreline side of the Legislature Building. Callwood says it's not.
"No, we scrapped Plan 8," he said.
Helen Gjessing, who chairs the Planning and Environmental Quality Committee of the League of Women Voters, is glad to hear that. Nonetheless, she says she's not impressed with the Lover's Lane to Mandela Circle plan.
"The league feels you don't need four lanes. The more you have four lanes, the more you need to extend four lanes," she said.
On an island such as St. Thomas which isn't very long, she said, there's no such thing as extending the highway. More roadway means wider roads.
To address traffic congestion in the area, the league favors the "One Way Triple Loop" plan, an idea that's been kicking around since 1979. The plan has been widely panned by officials, Gjessing noted. How does it work? "I can't really explain it to you," she said in a telephone interview. "I would have to give you a map."
For Callwood, however, road widening is the way to go. Toward that end the V.I. government has been negotiating rights of way with property owners along the proposed expansion route, including the developers planning to demolish the long derelict Yacht Haven Hotel and replace and expand it.
According to the Public Works release, the road construction work will begin in the fall. Yet to come are details of how long it will be expected to last and how traffic will be managed while it's under way.
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