Route 58: a needed project

Published 12:10 am Saturday, December 5, 2009

Now’s no time for Isle of Wight County officials, who have been consistent and welcome advocates of regionalism in recent years, to go parochial.

Isle of Wight officials whined recently about efforts by Virginia’s congressional delegation to secure federal funding for the widening of U.S. 58/Holland Road in Suffolk. They complained that the sorely needed highway expansion might give Suffolk a leg up in the competition for warehousing and distribution jobs.

Isle of Wight is making its own play for jobs in that sector with development of the Shirley Holland Intermodal Park in Windsor. Meanwhile, in western Suffolk, a Chicago company, CenterPoint Properties, plans to develop a massive complex of warehouses to serve the Port of Virginia.

Job creation at either site would be a huge boost for the economy of Western Tidewater, which will lose its anchor employer, International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill, by spring.

If U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb want to put their political muscle behind the widening of U.S. 58, a necessary step if the CenterPoint project is to flourish, the area’s elected leadership should cheer them, not complain.

The Route 58 project would have benefits for the entire region. A regional transportation commission, with good reason, ranked it the third most important highway project in all of Hampton Roads.

An expanded Route 58 through western Suffolk is especially attractive for Franklin and Southampton County, whose economic-development fortunes would be greatly enhanced by anything that increases the flow of commerce between Hampton Roads and Interstate 95.

Both communities offer prime real estate on that corridor: two existing industrial parks and a third to be developed over the next couple of years. Those sites will only become more attractive if U.S. 58 to the east is widened.

To his credit, Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors Chairman Stan Clark took a broader, more mature view of the congressional delegation’s efforts, even as his colleagues succumbed to parochialism.

“There’s enough synergy for the port expansion to take in CenterPoint and everything we’ve done in Isle of Wight and more,” he said.

— The Tidewater News