Construction crews have nearly completed extensive repairs to the roadway in the Fish Bay area, and Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley acknowledged on Dec. 2 that significant investments need to be made in overall road rehabilitation efforts throughout the territory. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

After Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley announced plans for direct Miami flights during a Dec. 2 press conference, he was asked if the territory’s roads and other infrastructure can stand up to the increased traffic from the more than 400 additional visitors those flights are expected to bring each week.

In response, he acknowledged longstanding problems that have led to growing calls for the government to properly repair the dilapidated road network in East End and other areas.

“What we’ve suffered from is a lack of investment in infrastructure over the past 20 years,” Dr. Wheatley said.

Now, he added, the road network urgently needs expensive comprehensive repairs.

“Yes, we paved a lot of roads, but did we put the supporting infrastructure in place to make sure you have proper drainage on the roads?” he asked. “No, we didn’t, and we’ve gotten to a point where the roads are completely in disrepair.”

He added that he would push hard to get needed works in the Paraquita Bay area completed by the June launch date for the direct flights, but he said it won’t be easy to fix everything that needs repairing after decades of neglect.

Falling behind?

Dr. Wheatley and Deputy Premier Kye Rymer — who is the minister of communications and works — said neighbouring countries have made serious investments in their infrastructure over the years, while the VI has fallen behind by comparison.

Dominica, for instance, has invested some $300 million in road infrastructure in recent years, Mr. Rymer said.

“We have just been chipping away at our roads, and we need to be serious about it,” he said.

In the 2023 Budget Address on Nov. 29, Dr. Wheatley said the recent commissioning of an asphalt plant will help the Public Works Department “be more responsive to our road repair needs and lower the cost of road projects.”

He added that the Ministry of Communications and Works has had to purchase machinery including pavers, mills and rollers in recent years.

On Dec. 2, Dr. Wheatley asked why more work on roads, water distribution, and other infrastructure wasn’t carried out when the territory’s budget included more room for capital investment.

Now, he said, such investments are urgently needed and funding is in short supply.

Though this work may require some borrowing, Dr. Wheatley stressed the need for substantive repairs that incorporate proper drainage and thoughtful engineering.

Upcoming repairs

In 2022, the government made some significant road repairs, including the nearly completed Fish Bay Road Rehabilitation Project, which the premier said cost about $2 million.

“Though expensive, this is a model that will be followed for the stretch of road between Paraquita Bay and Fat Hogs Bay, which should be tendered shortly, among other areas of the territory based on a phased approach to properly engineered and constructed road development projects,” Dr. Wheatley said.

Mr. Rymer said on Dec. 2 that repairing just the stretch of road from Trellis Bay to Paraquita Bay would likely cost more than $10 million.

“It’s not a cheap thing to do, but we have to get it done,” he said.

Dr. Wheatley noted that works on sewerage will continue as well, with $3 million currently budgeted for work in East End, Long Look, Fat Hogs Bay, Cane Garden Bay and Road Town in 2023.

Officials plan to coordinate roadworks with sewerage works as repairs continue up to Parham Town and beyond, he said.

Dr. Wheatley added that the construction process can be “cumbersome,” but government will work to streamline it as much as possible while still meeting its obligations to be transparent and accountable and seek the best value for taxpayers’ money