Borrow for Route 58 work

Published 9:27 pm Saturday, December 13, 2008

Before you gasp about the City of Suffolk’s proposal to borrow $134 million through general obligation bonds to help finance road projects, understand that in the scheme of things, this isn’t all that uncommon or unpractical a practice. In fact, Hampton Roads has proven that in order for the cities to keep up with their growth, financing through general obligation bonds is the way to go.

All of Hampton Roads’ cities have various benchmarks for how much debt they can issue. According to previously published reports, Suffolk and Chesapeake have borrowed about half of what they could borrow, while Virginia Beach is $100 million under its debt limit. The report said Portsmouth was so close to its limit that officials have balked at building a new courthouse.

The next year will be especially difficult for Norfolk, when the city plans to borrow $40 million for a new courthouse complex alone, in addition to millions more for new schools, stated the report. With Suffolk’s financial position in good shape, it makes sense now to move out on a plan that fixes many of its road problems.

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One of the projects included in an early draft of the next decade’s capital improvements plan is the widening of Holland Road, which is crucial to the development of the proposed CenterPoint project west of the bypass.

The CenterPoint project represents a unique opportunity for Suffolk and the region, but the road needs to be fixed, whether CenterPoint locates here or not. Suffolk needs to focus on getting the funding to widen the road now, welcome CenterPoint with open arms and kill two birds with one stone.

There remains hope that Suffolk will get help paying for the road work from the Virginia Port Authority or from the state and federal government. But without a commitment from the city to contribute to the highway, the plan won’t come together.

And if the bond request isn’t approved, then in 10 or 20 years, we still could be editorializing that Holland Road needs improvements.