Traffic a safety concern

Published 10:20 pm Saturday, January 23, 2010

As Virginia’s General Assembly tackles a budget during yet another year of austerity, Western Tidewater residents are left with little hope that there will be real progress made this year in Richmond on solving the transportation problems that bedevil the local area and the Hampton Roads region in general.

But two recent horrific accidents on or near Route 58 — and the wrecked vehicles left in the aftermath — show just what is at stake. One of those accidents resulted in the death of a Suffolk man. Photos of the mangled box truck involved in the other crash make it clear that the driver of that vehicle survived only due to a miracle, especially considering he was ejected from the vehicle.

So much of the debate surrounding Hampton Roads traffic and its potential solutions centers on the inconvenience that area drivers experience going to and from work on gridlocked roads that it is easy to overlook the safety factors weighing in favor of action.

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Every extra car traveling along the area’s already-congested highways adds to the danger of accidents. And accidents on congested roads are more likely to involve multiple vehicles, exponentially increasing the odds of fatalities.

The public transportation improvements that are under way in Norfolk and Virginia Beach are expected to provide only a limited improvement to congestion in those areas. Those improvements will do almost nothing to improve the situation along Route 58 and Route 460, two of Western Tidewater’s most congested and dangerous thoroughfares.

As legislators from the area work to craft solutions to the transportation problems of Hampton Roads, they would do well to keep the photos of mangled vehicles alongside Route 58 as reminders of what is most at stake in the process. Citizens of the area do not just risk being late for work when they hit the road. Each trip also represents a gamble — however insignificant it might seem at the time — that it could be the last. Virginia’s legislators owe it to their constituents to do what they can to reduce that risk — and soon.