You think it is busy now?

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 3, 2006

The Downtown Suffolk Rotary Club meets every Thursday. Each month, a different club member is responsible for lining up programs for these meetings. More often than not, they are pretty good.

I probably try to listen more closely than most, because I typically write a little story about the remarks if it’s something in which I think others might be interested.

I particularly enjoy the programs when the speaker is some type of public official from out of town. He or she does not realize that someone is in the audience writing down everything they say and that it could end up in the newspaper. As such, they are more forthcoming than they might otherwise be, say, at a press conference.

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At first, I felt a little … I don’t know, devious, about reporting on such remarks, but fortunately it soon passed.

This happened last Thursday when J. Robert Bray, executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, was the guest speaker.

Bray started off talking about the advantages our port has over competitors like New York City, Charleston (S.C.) and Savannah (Ga.). Our port is apparently deeper; there are no obstructions (bridges) with which to contend; and we have the fastest cranes in the world, making loading and unloading a snap.

Then he started talking about the opening next year of the new Maersk terminal, which is expected to increase traffic dramatically, particularly when the new rail route to the Midwest is opened, and what a wonderful thing it will be for economic development.

You may remember a few months back reading about how this will increase rail traffic through our city. At first, it is expected there will be three mile-long trains a day going through Suffolk at about 35 mph. I didn’t do the math, because it is beyond the limits of my feeble intellect, but I think I read somewhere that it will take such a train about 10 minutes to go through a crossing. That’s provided, of course, the engineer doesn’t decide to stop halfway through the crossing and start backing up as they are apt to do from time to time — especially when they are in a foul mood.

“Everybody’s very mindful of the impact,” Bray said, noting that it is hoped the trains will be able to move through Peanut City at off-peak hours.

In a few years, as port business grows, the number of trains is expected to increase to six to eight. Can you imagine eight miles of trains passing through our city each day, virtually bringing traffic to a standstill for nearly an hour and a half?

As one might expect, this tidbit seemed to concern Rotarians, who pressed Bray to elaborate.

He showed a slide of the rail route through Suffolk and the crossings that would be impacted: Wellons Street, Saratoga Street, Washington Street, Moore Avenue, Suburban Drive, Olde Mill Creek, QVC Drive, Progress Road, Nansemond Parkway and Wilroy Road, Sportsman’s Boulevard, Nansemond Parkway and Shoulder’s Hill.

Bray said he was hopeful that relief will come to three crossings n Washington Street, Wilroy and Nansemond, and Nansemond Parkway n in the form of an overpass, but he couldn’t guarantee it.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you everything’s going to be fine and dandy,” Bray said. “At best, it will be years before you see the kind of improvements you want to see.”

Here’s the translation from governmentese to civilian:

“It’s ain’t going to happen. You people are stuff out of luck.”

I think, “at best,” someone will regularly sabotage the tracks.

Thirty-five miles an hour is fast when you’re talking about a gazillion-ton locomotive. I imagine there are going to be some nasty accidents at some of these crossings in the years ahead. The best-case scenario is a couple of 10-minute waits each day. And what about the thousands of people who have to travel fast-developing Shoulder’s Hill Road, where school buses will be servicing the new Creekside Elementary? It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.

If you think the traffic situation is bad now, just wait. But I guess that’s the price you pay for economic development.

Prutsok is publisher of the News-Herald. Contact him at, or 934-9611.