Priest pushes for upgrading of Historical Marigot Hill RoadPOSTED: 10/23/11 11:30 AM
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – At an approximate cost of 4 million guilders, the Historical Marigot Hill Road could be restored. Connecting the road through the mountains to Marigot could diminish the current pressure on St. Maarten’s road network by an estimated 40 percent. The plan to upgrade the road is in itself almost historical – it dates back to 1993, when the Marigot Hill Road neighborhood committee chaired by Theophilus Priest organized a raffle to finance a feasibility study for the project.
Priest has dusted off the plan and presents it now as a possible solution to improve the flow of traffic out of Dutch Cul de Sac. “Connecting Cul de Sac via the Historical Marigot Hill Road to Concordia would split the traffic in half,” Priest says. It would be a five minute drive to get to the other side.”
Truth be told, creating such a connection requires the cooperation of the French, and the road would be a secondary connection – one that is not fit for heavy traffic or large volumes.
Most people who live on the Philipsburg side of the hill are in Cul de Sac – Mary’s Fancy, St. Johns, Reward, Betty’s Estate, and St. Peters. To get to Marigot, residents now have to drive all the way around via the L.B. Scott Road, the A.J.C. Brouwers Road and the Union Road.
Priest suggests that the government takes another look at the seventeen-year-old plans. The Marigot Hill road committee commissioned a feasibility study that was completed in May 1994 by Independent Consulting Engineers, ICE. At the time, the road could have been upgraded and built for approximately 2.1 million guilders.
The reactions to the plan were ambivalent at the time. On August 21, 1994, Priest received a letter from the chairman of the Central Committee, the now deceased Edgar Lynch, that the study had been discussed on August 15 and that it had been referred to the Executive Council with some questions.
Apparently, the Executive Council was interested, because already on September 5 the Marigot Hill Road Committee received a letter than ran more than four pages wherein the Executive Council expressed its support for the plan, and a willingness to participate financially in the road’s upgrading over a length of 1.5 kilometer.
It never happened, Priest says now, though there was a groundbreaking ceremony on April 12, 1995. Edgar Lynch did the honors by moving a chunk of earth with an excavator. According to a report in The Chronicle of the following day, Lynch assured Priest that the government was ‘totally committed in seeing the project through to its completion.”
All this happened a week after the Island Council elections. “There was a change of government and Vance James Jr. dropped the project,” Priest says.
The Marigot Hill road used to be one of the main connections between St. Peters and Marigot. In the old days, the road was traveled by pedestrians and by carts. But the road fell in disrepair after the French side built a new road towards the Concordia Hill border crossing as we know it today.
But while Priest’s idea is to restore the road in its former glory, and to connect it to the road network in the French side, the engineers at ICE had their doubts in 1994 about the road’s potential as a major traffic route.
The main reason for this is, according to the ICE-report, “the steep grades which are unavoidable in the upper part of the alignment; they effectively prohibit use of the road for heavy traffic (trucks and buses) and larger traffic densities.”
The engineers also thought that the road would become rather expensive due to the need for extensive cut and fill operations and the construction of extensive retaining walls. Several houses would need to be demolished and the road would traverse several private properties. The road would also cause significant disruption of the residential area.
“Last but not least, this will certainly not enhance the historical value of the Historical Marigot Hill Road as an asset to the country.”
For these reasons, the ICE-engineers considered building the through road as not feasible. The study concluded that upgrading the road is more within the realm of reality. “In the second scenario the emphasis is put more on the reinstatement of the Historical Marigot Hill Road as an historical and touristic asset to the island, whereby the surrounding environment is disturbed as little as possible, and whereby at the same time proper access is created to the historical site of the signing of the Concordia Treaty. At the same time, a secondary connection between the north and the south of the island could be created.”