The territory’s weather-damaged roads are to receive more than $1.9 million in repairs in the coming months — part of a $3 million plan to improve roads in Tortola and Virgin Gorda, Communications and Works Minister Julian Fraser said Friday at a public signing of 12 contracts with BVI Paving.
Mr. Fraser said the repairs are needed after “four consecutive months of four consecutive disasters,” referring to damage caused last year by Hurricane Earl, Tropical Storm Otto and the accompanying rains.
“Most of the roads were fixed just prior to the July floods, and they got into a state of disrepair. And every time we make an attempt to fix it, something happened and something happened,” Mr. Fraser said.
The damages have also been exacerbated by “drainage issues,” which Mr. Fraser said the ministry is looking at how to resolve.
The $1.9 million phase across Tortola and Virgin Gorda will be followed “very shortly thereafter” by a second phase to fix roads from the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge to the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, part of $16 million in planned infrastructure projects, the minister added.
He also said the ministry is seeking about $13-15 million in funding from the Caribbean Development Bank for the works, though the first phase will be financed through local funds.
Projected completion date
Mr. Fraser said works will commence as soon as the contractor mobilises, and he hopes the project will be completed as early as July — and certainly by October, when elections are expected to be called, he said.
Mark Simmonds, the owner of BVI Paving, said the first phase will take about two and a half weeks, depending on the weather. He said he was glad to be able to do something to fix the roads.
“The roads need to be done. The whole public’s been complaining about the roads, and they’ll be glad to know that something is happening right now,” he said.
Mr. Fraser said that he hired a consultant to develop tougher paving specifications so that “when we apply the top coat, it stays on.”
“In life, there are no guarantees, but we’re going to do the best we can,” Mr. Fraser said.
Asked by this reporter on Friday why his ministry decided to outsource the paving instead of performing the work in house, Mr. Fraser replied, “Well, I don’t know how long you’ve been in the BVI, but I think you’ve been here long enough to know why.”
Asked to clarify his response, the minister responded, “Well, wait around, you’ll see.”
Premier Ralph O’Neal said the Public Works Department is currently short-staffed, adding that he hopes the Human Resources Department will fill the vacancies soon.
The PWD also faces other challenges. Late last year, acting Director Dr. Drexel Glasgow told the Standing Finance Committee that the department’s current asphalt plant is “outdated and very unsafe to the environment,” according to a report on the proceedings.
“He further stated that if the department considered moving the asphalt plant to another location it would fall apart,” the report said.
The PWD received a $500,000 funding allocation three years ago to purchase a milling machine to remove old asphalt. The purchase went through the tendering process, but was aborted, and the monies were reassigned, Dr. Glasgow told the SFC.
The premier said that BVI Paving was chosen for the no-bid contract without advertising for other firms because he wanted a VI firm to do the work.
“I was asked some time ago, ‘Well, why don’t we advertise these contracts?’ and I said, ‘Advertise for what?’ I don’t know any other paving company here, so if you advertise, you advertise to have somebody from St. Thomas, St. Croix or Puerto Rico to come in to do the job, and why do that? We should be glad that we have a local firm doing this paving and so on, and that we can call them at any time,” he said.
The premier, who is also the finance minister, also said that in the past there have been problems with the government not paying its contractors on time — particularly to BVI Paving.
“If we don’t have the money, don’t sign the contract. But once you sign the contract you are obligated to pay. Now I know Mr. Simmonds has a lot of patience, and he has tolerated many times along the way. But you know that can’t go on forever, and I hope every effort will be made to ensure that the payments will be on time as much as possible,” the premier said.
The contract is the second major roadwork project announced this year. Last month, officials inked a series of contracts worth $1.34 million as part of a $2.1 million plan to construct 2.5 miles of roads on VG.