Suffolk may take control of roads away from VDOT

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 3, 2004

The city may assume control of 1,480 miles of roadways now maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

On Friday, the last day of the Suffolk City Council’s retreat in Williamsburg, city lawmakers agreed to further study two proposals – one by the city, the other by the VDOT – calling for the city to assume responsibility for the roadways.

Under the city’s current arrangement with VDOT, made during the city’s 1974 merger with the former Nansemond County, Suffolk manages its urban core streets. Meanwhile, the state takes care of the roads in the rest of the 430-square-mile city.

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The city has been discussing the proposal for a couple of years, largely because local officials say Suffolk could get more bang for the state buck if the city handles the purse strings.

Through his department and the use of private contractors when necessary, Public Works Director Eric T. Nielsen said he believes the city could make better use of state road construction and maintenance monies if the municipality controlled the road projects.

&uot;Taking over the roads will give us the edge with more money,&uot; Nielsen said. &uot;For example, there is a better chance of replacing the Kings Highway Bridge in a shorter time because we will have more construction money.&uot;

Major road projects in the city’s long-term plan – the four-laning of Nansemond Parkway, construction of the new Kings Highway Bridge and a Pinner Street flyover could be funded much sooner than under the state’s plan.

Also, the city would be able take care of traffic concerns, such as speed limit changes, traffic signal installation, speed limit changes without having to wait for VDOT to deal with the request.

Initially the city was proposing that it request a partial takeover of roadways – about 555 miles, Nielsen said.

But in a September letter to the Suffolk City Council, Connie S. Sorrel, interim director of the Hampton Roads district, recommended that the city either assume full responsibility for all 1,480 miles of roads and streets or none of it.

Although some council members were a little hesitant, at least one was overjoyed.

&uot;I strongly urge the support of this,&uot; said Councilman Curtis Milteer. &uot;I wish I could vote twice.&uot;

Councilman E. Dana Dickens III urged more caution.

&uot;I think it the unknown that bothers me more than what we know,&uot; he said.

&uot;The devil is in the details and I worry there may be details we don’t know about yet.

Calvin Jones had similar sentiments.

&uot;There are people who are going to say we are flat out

crazy, Jones said.

Over the weeks to come, the Suffolk City Council will sponsor forums to share information with citizens and to get their input.