In the weeks before the February general election, the former government quickly resurfaced roads across Tortola.
Already, those repairs are falling apart.
This is extremely disheartening at a time when the territory’s leaders need to be focused on building back stronger from Hurricane Irma.
We hope that the new government will eschew the longstanding practice of quick fixes, and work with technical experts and the community at large to create a comprehensive plan to repair the territory’s road network properly — including on the sister islands, which didn’t even get the patch job that Tortola got before the election.
This endeavor will be an expensive long-term project: The transportation infrastructure was in poor shape even before Irma, which caused an estimated $69 million in damage to roads and seawalls, according to the Recovery to Development Plan. But the work is necessary.
For decades, roadwork in the Virgin Islands has too often been limited to cosmetic resurfacing, which tends to be carried out at an accelerated pace shortly before elections after no-bid deals are handed out to multiple contractors with varied levels of experience.
Not surprisingly, the newly laid asphalt often washes away during the first heavy rain.
To make matters worse, roadwork is not always carefully coordinated with other needed repairs: It is not uncommon for a brand-new section of road to be excavated in order for utility lines to be laid or repaired.
This haphazard system wastes taxpayer dollars and is a large part of the reason why the roads are as pothole-ridden and dangerous as they are today.
The VI can do better. In spite of the territory’s steep topography and harsh weather, it is not impossible to build solid roads here.
Consider, for example, the roadwork funded by the Caribbean Development Bank loan obtained to repair damages from flooding associated with Tropical Storm Otto in 2010. In large part because of stringent CDB requirements, that work was preceded by engineering assessments and drainage studies, and most of it held up reasonably well even in the face of disasters like the August 2017 storms.
We see no reason why all new roads should not be constructed with similar care and attention. The process will take more time and money up front, but that investment will pay for itself in time.
As leaders move forward with the roads — and other aspects of the recovery, for that matter — they would do well to remember an old adage: Any job worth doing is worth doing right.