More roundabouts planned for Airport Road project
Three more roundabouts are planned for the Airport Road to control the flow of traffic on one of the busiest roads of Tutuila, with the one located on the McDonald’s corner created early-on to give local residents a chance to get used to using a roundabout, according to testimony offered by Public Works director-appointee Faleosina Voight, during a Senate Public Works Committee hearing on Monday.
Voight was the sole witness during 40-minute hearing, which also raised issues such as the long delays in getting seawall projects moving forward due to the federal permitting process, status of roads island-wide and trees hanging low over the main road posing threats to motorists.
When asked about the Airport Road project, which is contracted to Whitehorn Construction, Voight said the deadline for the U.S. based company to complete the project is October this year and DPW meets weekly with Whitehorn for an update on the project.
There were no other questions pertaining to this project, but Sen. Faletagoa’i I. Tuiolemotu raised a question about the current roundabout at the Airport Road, saying that an accident is bound to happen soon in this area because it was not done right.
He said the right-of-way is very confusing and motorists are frustrated as there are no clear “signs” in the area.
Samoa News should point out that there are “signs” regarding the right-of-way, they are the size of normal traffic signs. All three roads leading into the roundabout have ‘YIELD’ signs, denoting that a vehicle approaching the intersection must slow down and see if it can enter the roundabout safely.
Voight explained that the motorist/ vehicle in the roundabout circle has the right-of-way, and all other traffic must yield.
She went on to say that part of the reconstruction of this road project includes three more roundabouts which will be wider than the current one at the corner of McDonald’s restaurant heading into Petesa. She said the current roundabout will also be wider.
The other planned roundabouts will be at the road into Fagaima (in front of Triple S gas station), the road to the industrial park (in front of ASPA), and the intersection next to the old PX in Tafuna.
She said the McDonald’s corner roundabout was built to give the public a chance to understand and get used to this new type of traffic flow method that will be used to ease traffic jams.
The Senate hearing was called following concerns raised by Sen. Sua V. Matautia, who said one of the trees hanging low over the main road in Afono fell last week and affected a student on way to school.
During the hearing, Voight said this is the first time she has heard about this incident, although there was a landslide last month at the Afono road and a temporary fix is now in place while a permanent solution is being sought.
She went on to explain that DPW does not have the proper equipment to trim tree branches hanging over the highway and they depend on trucks and equipment from the American Samoa Power Authority and American Samoa TeleCommunications — both trim branches affecting their lines.
Sua, who worked for many years at DPW, told the witness that the government needs to find a solution to this problem, affecting Afono as well as many road-side villages, adding that this problem is getting worse as strong winds and heavy rainfall affect the territory.
He remarked that Afono residents are now making it a point to pray first for a safe trip, before getting into their cars heading out of the village.
Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono told Voight that for 20-years Nu’uuli traditional leaders have been trying to get a seawall for the Nu’uuli-tai (or Nu’uuli village ‘aai) shoreline, which has eroded over the years due to high waves.
Soliai said the seawall project finally broke ground last year with the contract awarded, but to the disappointment of village leaders, it was found that the required federal permit, which is issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was not even close to being approved.
Soliai urged the DPW and the new administration to please do something to expedite the process of getting the required federal permit so that construction can begin soon and prevent more erosion of the Nu’uuli-tai shoreline.
He said the airport runway strip — which is parallel to Nu’uuli shoreline — has blocked the easy flow of ocean water back to the sea and this is causing more erosion of the shoreline. For example, he said the Coleman family property, called Mulinu’u at the tip of Nu’uuli-tai will soon became a small separate island because the strong ocean continues to eat away at the shoreline part of this area.
Voight acknowledged the concerns by Soliai, saying the Nu’uuli seawall project as well as the Aua seawall project are funded under part of the $16 million allocation from the federal government to American Samoa a few years ago.
However, she said the delay in these two projects, as well as other seawall projects, is due to ASG waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue the required federal permits. She says these projects are “high priority” for DPW and the department is confident that the permits will be issued soon.
(Another project still awaiting a federal permit from the USACE is the seawall at the new Tri Marine cannery facility. The company has said its construction of a dock fo_r local fishing boats to unload is on hold due to the permit delay.)
Soliai asked if a Senate-approved resolution urging the Army Corps to expedite the permit process would help DPW, and Voight said “yes” because such an official request from the Fono, with the support of the new administration, would show the federal agency the dire need to move these and other projects forward.
(Samoa News should point out that some of the projects from the 2009 tsunami for road repairs along the shoreline villages also still require permits issued by the Army Corps).
Voight also gave a briefing on upcoming road projects, saying the governor has been given a plan covering road projects for the next five years and this includes road resurfacing, such as up to Fagaitua on the Eastern Side and Leone on the Western Side.
She also noted that American Samoa is being allocated $4 million in federal highway funds for fiscal year 2013 -2014. Additionally, there are secondary roads in areas such as Tualauta county where DPW is looking at sole sourcing projects so they can be expedited, due to the dire need to fix them.
The DPW official also brought with her road project plans for distribution to senators and this was the same information sheet provided to the House last week.
Sen. Leatualevao S. Asifoa offered one of the final remarks, as he wondered aloud if the reason contractors submit much lower bids for the roads is just to get the contract, and then depend on change orders which, in the end, increase the actual cost of the project.
Voight responded that maybe that is the thinking of some people; however, any change orders must be approved by DPW and change order requests must provide justification for the change, such as an issue that is outside of the original scope of work.
At the end of the hearing, senators asked Voight to make sure DPW does everything possible to fix the roads in the territory.