St. Barths Online


Aug 2, 2003

New road from the Tourmente to the airport set to open in a few months

After two years of construction, the new section of road that runs from the top of the Tourmente toward the airport should be open to traffic as of October 2003.
Like everyone who drives by the Tourmente (the hill near the airport), I've been watching the work progress day-by-day. For the past week or so, one can see that the workmen have been paving this new six-meter-wide stretch of concrete that will replace the current departmental roadway. Recap of the project:
With an eye toward the safety of airplanes landing in Saint Barth, the civil aviation authority asked the Conseil General, the departmental agency responsible for 80% of the roads on the island, to lower the summit of the Tourmente by 3.5 meters (11.5 ft). And the stretch of roadway that runs from the top of the hill toward the exit of the parking lot at the airport had to be moved 35 meters (115 ft.) closer to the mountainside.
The first phase of the work started in October 2001 when the mountain was leveled off. Over the course of a few weeks, 4000 cubic meters of rock and dirt were removed and piled in St Jean near the fire station. In order to meet the requests made by the civil aviation authority, it was necessary to flatten the highest point by 1.8 meters (6 ft). The removal of the first layer was fairly easy, but the work soon slowed down when they hit a vein of hard blue rock that had to be blasted away with explosives. As neither the hard rock nor the explosives were planned for, the company from Guadeloupe that is handling the project was forced to get special permission from the Prefecture in order to use the explosives. By the time the authorization was given and the company notified, the work finally took place in December. For reasons that no one cares to explain, the work then stopped for the next six months. Some claim it was due to financial problems, others claim it was due to the problem of removing tons and tons of earth and rock.
The work started again in October 2002. In the meantime, the municipality asked the departmental authorities to reduce the dimensions of an intended traffic circle, and to modify the degree of the slope. The scope of the project as originally laid out by the engineers was adapted more for the roads in France than those of a small island like St-Barth. On the other hand, the Conseil General was having its own problems with France Telecom. Before the work got underway, it was made clear that the three "tenants", France Telecom, the EDF, and the municipality were each responsible, at their own expenses, to move their networks for telephone, electricity, and water, respectively, as these were located under the old road. When the time came, the municipal technical services and the EDF complied. But once again the work was stopped for a few months as France Telecom stalled in moving its installations. Finally, the telephone company said it was not in the position to pay for a move that the Conseil General would not pay for either. As a result, the latter refused to move the equipment of France Telecom and to modify the initial design for the traffic circle. Therefore it was useless to continue to dig away at the hillside, and the excavation was filled in once a new plan for the traffic circle was drawn. The workmen once again started to grade the roadway.
The director of Gaddarkhan and the departmental highway service have assured me that they will do what it takes to get the road open by the beginning of the tourist season. The paving should be completed within the next two weeks. Then they have to connect the new road to the existing one, approximately 50 meters (165 ft.) after the exit of the airport parking lot.; an exit that the municipality hopes to make safer by improving the visibility of drivers leaving the parking lot. As for local access for those who work in the hangars on the far side of the airport, the question has not yet been resolved. The initial project called for building of a small access road from the new one, but it is possible that the access road will start at the traffic circle and use part of the old departmental route.
When the new stretch of road is in use, the land between the existing road and the new one will be graded accordingly as the plateau atop the Tourmente is widened. Negotiations are underway between the municipality and the Conseil General for the finishing touches, including lights and a wooden security fence on both sides of the road, as well as a sidewalk on the side of the mountain that would lead from the infirmary to the airport.
At the outset of the project, the work was estimated at 1 million Euro. The cost of the overruns has yet to be established.
Cécile Lucot

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