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Battle Over Frenchtown Traffic Sign Heating Up

June 13, 2005– Residents and businesses in Frenchtown, and even some senators, are turning up the heat on acting Public Works Commissioner George Phillips by voicing their disapproval over a No Right Turn sign installed over a week ago at the intersection of Altona and Veterans Drive — one of only two entrances into Frenchtown.
The sign, which reverses a decades-old traffic flow, drastically interferes with Frenchtown commerce and day-to-day activities.
Senate President Lorraine Berry wrote Phillips on Friday to express her dismay at the traffic change and to ask him to remove the sign. Berry said Monday afternoon that Phillips told her the new traffic regulations would be lifted this weekend to accommodate the annual Frenchtown Father's Day celebration. However, Berry added that he did not indicate any intention of removing the sign permanently.
Phillips told the Source last Friday at a Public Finance Authority meeting, where he serves as PFA counsel, that he would not remove the signs. He said traffic accidents at that intersection had provoked the decision to install the sign. He said he would, however, meet with Frenchtown leaders to discuss "traffic flow in Frenchtown."
Monday afternoon the leadership of Frenchtown's two community organizations – Frenchtown Civic Organization (FTCO) and the Committee for the Betterment of Carenage (CBC) – met and decided to invite four government officials to discuss the issue.
On behalf of himself and FTCO President Henry Richardson, CBC President Jean Greaux wrote to Phillips and three other officials — St. Thomas-Water Island administrator James O 'Bryan, Territorial Police Chief Novelle Francis Jr. and St. Thomas-St. John Deputy Police Chief Elvin Fahie — to invite them to a 2 p.m. meeting Tuesday at the Frenchtown Heritage Museum.
In her letter to Phillips, Berry wrote that "this hasty decision provided no public announcement and overstepped jurisdictional authority. All roadways and traffic changes … are under the sole discretion of the Commissioner of the Police Department, Elton Lewis."
She cited the VI Code, s.91: "The Police Authorities may regulate and control all traffic and may close any public street, road or place, to all traffic, or to certain kinds of traffic, when circumstances concerning public safety and order warrant."
Berry continued, "It is clear that the Department of Public Works overstepped its authority. I am respectfully requesting that the action be reversed and that Public Works adhere to what is afforded under the law."
Lewis testified at a Senate meeting last Friday that he knew nothing of the decision. He said Phillips made the decision on his own.
On Monday Sen. Roosevelt David offered his support in getting the sign removed. His brother owns the Frenchtown Drug Center, one of the businesses negatively affected by the new sign.
The sign prevents traffic heading east from making the convenient turn into one of Frenchtown's two entrances. It forces traffic to either turn in at the already-busy Arturo Wattlington Sr. (Frenchtown) Post Office intersection and circle back around Frenchtown to reach Altona; or to pull left into the lot by Quality Foods and Percy's Bus Stop, and then await the green light to turn right, back onto Veterans Drive, in order to then turn left into the Altona entrance. (See "Frenchtown Residents Decry Blocked Access to Their Town".)
The fact that no one in Frenchtown was consulted about the decision rankles the community almost as much as the sign itself.
In his letter, Greaux asked Phillips why the police department was not involved in the decision to post the sign, why the community wasn't consulted, and where the accident statistics are to support the change.
He stated further, "Frenchtown residents are law abiding, but when the government makes a decision that negatively impacts our lives, we take action."
This same sentiment was voiced by Richardson last week when he referred to the old Barbary Coast Bar, (now a grocery store), which stayed open almost all night, depriving residents of sleep. He said, "We marched and we complained, and we got the bar to shut down at a normal hour we could live with."
Fady Zahran, owner of the Vegetable City grocery store on the corner, said at the Monday meeting that traffic gets backed up from the Post Office intersection all the way to his store. At busy hours, this is a consequence of the traffic change, which Richardson had predicted last week.
Zahran said he had to close his store to come to the meeting.
Charles Magras, owner of Mr. Creole Department Store, said Monday, "We have been in business here for more than 50 years. Last Friday I took in $2 by noon; I sent two employees home."
Clifford Callwood, owner of Callwood Water Delivery, said his trucks are "really taking a beating, going down to Percy's to turn around makes a bigger chance of accidents."
Greaux's letter to Phillips concluded that he and Richardson "stand ready to see that your decision is either revisited or reversed. We are prepared to seek the court's intervention, if necessary."
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