Note: the original design of this project included the entire distance of the road between Grand Fond and Toiny, however, in implementation the construction has been divided into two parts with the first being the Toiny half up to the Maison Noureev landmark. A second part completing the link from Maison Noureev to the village of Grand Fond is yet to come.
The 1.6 kilometer (1 mile) long existing road connecting Grand Fond and Toiny was rustic and charming to photograph but dangerously unfit for modern usage. The old concrete pavement was too narrow for passing cars thus leading to heavy wear & tear on the road shoulders of dust and gravel. On the oceanside, the main risk was the road crumbling onto the beach & ocean below while on the land-side, historic old fieldstone walls risked collapse form the weakened foundations.
Although a potentially attractive environment for leisure activities such as jogging or dog walking, the complete lack of sidewalks or paths left pedestrians dangerously exposed to passing cars with the added threat of stumbling on loose debris and tumbling down the hillside into the ocean. Whatever enjoyment one might have experienced in the pleasant natural scenery was typically overwhelmed with anxiety when competing with others for the limited stable footing. Moreover, past hurricanes had exposed the fragility of the infrastructure. The electrical and telephone poles were easy targets for the high winds and electricity was often out for days if not weeks after storms. Road closures due to flooding or debris were not uncommon and repairs were typically temporary solutions rather than long term planning designed to mitigate tropical storm risk.
Consequently, multiple objectives were targeted in the renovation of the Route Grand Fond Toiny: improved safety was paramount and upgraded infrastructure inevitable. Yet given the rustic allure of the Côte Sauvage (Wild Coast) within the minds of locals and tourists alike, there were also larger cultural sensibilities involved. Connections not only of the physical road between two villages but also intangible connections or a metaphorical "road" linking from St Barts past as a quaint vacation destination to it's future as one of the best places to live due to it's high quality of life. Achieving this requires awareness of the place's strengths such as natural beauty, variety of uses & textures and it's general quality of rustic charm while thoughtfully incorporating improvements such as safe pedestrian paths, lighting, dedicated parking and better curb appeal throughout.
Technical or engineering challenges at Route Grand Fond Toiny were modest. Of greater concern was the political or cultural context of renovating a road that had become popular for the nostalgia of it's raw nature that earned it the name Côte Sauvage or Wild Coast. Is it possible to preserve the essential characteristics of the place and enhance amenities without overwhelming it with new construction? Early in the design process a three-pronged philosophy of mindful preservation, total accessibility and seamless functionality was adapted. Everything would need to function safely and at modern standards. The road was to be tool for access to the rugged splendors of the coast rather than an obstacle itself to enjoying them. Lastly, everything was to be preserved unless there was a good reason to alter it. Most importantly, this was applied to existing walls (particularly the old fieldstone walls) on the landward side of the road.
At smaller scale, the details mattered too. A variety of textures was incorporated to lessen the feel of concrete. Different stones for various sections of the walls. Pavers set within the concrete to mark transitions and delineate spaces. Wood handrails and seating to soften the touch at the human scale. And plantings used as accents rather than feature objects.
The automobile route was deliberately left as narrow as possible by French regulation to honor the history of the road, reduce car speeds and maximize available space for pedestrian paths, parking, utilities and landscaping. As a baseline, the existing walls on the landward side were left untouched and a small "buffer zone" (typically 40–80 centimeters wide) provides room to shore up the wall foundations as well as offer some space for trash collection and mail delivery. Utilities lines were placed securely underground to insure continuity of service during tropical storms and hurricanes.
The road paving itself was then laid out at minimum width for two passing automobiles and numerous speed bumps and cross walks are included for pedestrian safety. On the oceanside of the the road, depending on available width one might find parking spaces, sitting benches, landscaping and always either a sidewalk or path such that a pedestrian can easily walk or run from Toiny to Maison Nourev (and eventually all the way to Grand Fond in Part II). Low profile retaining walls composed of a variety of local stone support the road and sidewalks while framing the edge of the ocean view beyond with a continuous, meandering datum line. Stairs bring access to the beach of Toiny where one finds the old wind huts of a small leper colony before hiking out to the pointe and returning past the famous Hôtel Le Toiny. Selective lighting safely illuminates the road and paths at night without overpowering the starry night sky above with unnecessary light pollution. Last but certainly not least, designated accessible parking offers access to parts of the project where even a wheelchair could be safely utilized in an environment of fresh air and pleasant ocean views.
The transformation has been impressive. Whereas as Toiny was once a bit shabby-looking and considered undesirable given it's long distance from many of the island's amenities, now it has become a popular residential neighborhood courtesy of the renovated road which has become an amenity itself with particular appeal to the sportif and wellness-oriented mindset of the modern healthy lifestyle. The bright sunrise perfectly complements a morning run or yoga on the beach and in the evening the fresh air blowing in from the ocean fuels a hearty night's rest.