To heck with consistency

Published 8:08 pm Friday, February 5, 2010

A recent press release from the city got me to thinking about roads and the names we have for them.

I’ve been around Suffolk long enough that I still refer to its primary roads and major highways by numbers, but today every street, lane, highway and byway has some moniker designed, perhaps, to make mail and package delivery easier and more efficient — or maybe to improve 911 emergency response time.

For some of us old-timers, though, no matter what names they give the city’s streets, they’ll always be “58,” “460,” “10” and “17” to us. Perhaps “Route 10” doesn’t have the same historical significance as Godwin Boulevard, but for anybody with a map or a yen for driving, the route number reminds us that we’re connected via a winding ribbon of blacktop to towns throughout Virginia. “Bridge Road” seems an obvious name for Route 17, which hops across bodies of water on three bridges as it zigzags across the northern part of Suffolk. By the same — or reverse — logic, though, shouldn’t King’s Highway be called Bridgeless Road?


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Perhaps you can understand my confusion. If not, consider Route 460, the major, four-lane, undivided east-west thoroughfare through Suffolk. When I grew up, it was called “Route 460,” though I suspect some city planners already had given it a real name by then.

Today, however, Route 460 seems to have an identity crisis. From the city’s border with Isle of Wight, it is called Pruden Boulevard, retaining that name until it intersects with Route 10 (er, Godwin Boulevard), where it takes on its alter-ego of N. Main Street. (When N. Main Street crosses Washington Street, the main street through town becomes Carolina Road, of course, and S. Main Street is a little-traveled neighborhood road that I didn’t even know existed until I looked at a map just now. Makes sense, right?)

East of downtown, Route 460 has even bigger problems. Is it E. Constance Road, U.S. 58 Business or Portsmouth Boulevard? My favorite part of Portsmouth Boulevard … is actually in Portsmouth. But my favorite part of Suffolk’s Portsmouth Boulevard is the part that takes you to … Chesapeake, where the name changes again — to S. Military Highway. Oh, my head.

Route 58 offers little relief from the confusion, but for exactly the opposite reason — it hangs onto its name through changes that would have other roads begging for a new identity.

The road that runs past Lipton Tea and Amadas Industries on the outskirts of the Downtown area? Holland Road. The road that passes through French Fry Alley, tempting travelers to tarry for a treat? Holland Road. The road that actually bypasses the tiny town of Holland? Holland Road, of course. The road that continues on into Southampton County? You guessed it — Holland Road. Holland Road in Suffolk has more personalities than Sybil.

This whole topic of conversation arose in the newsroom the other day when we were trying to develop a policy for how we will refer to Suffolk’s streets. After several minutes of confusion, I realized that our current policy of using whatever designation seems best at the time —to heck with consistency — is perfectly appropriate.