Removing a bottleneck

Published 10:08 pm Monday, March 21, 2011

While most of the attention directed at Hampton Roads’ traffic problems has been focused on the tunnels, bridges and connections between Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, it turns out that transportation planners consider some of the most important stretches of highway in the area to be right here in Suffolk.

And though they’re concerned about the ultimate fates of U.S. Route 58 and Nansemond Parkway, those planners might have raised eyebrows the most with their recent assessment of the importance of improving Route 17 from Chesapeake to the Godwin Bridge.

The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization’s placement of the Godwin Bridge among its top road-construction priorities reflects a reality of the decision to close the King’s Highway Bridge in 2005: Detours resulting from the closure of the Godwin Bridge would now result in a nightmarishly long loop around most of Suffolk, totaling more than an hour’s drive for many commuters.

Email newsletter signup

While they were thinking of detour issues, however, members of the HRTPO should have considered the problems caused by the ever-more-frequent closures experienced at the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel. A rush-hour northbound closure of that James River crossing wreaks havoc along Route 17, with Peninsula-bound drivers choking both lanes of traffic for miles as they inch through the bottleneck that takes place from the two-lane Godwin Bridge to the Chuckatuck Creek Bridge.

Unfortunately, adding a two-lane companion span to the Godwin Bridge still would leave a chokepoint a little more than two miles away, where the short, four-lane road segment turns again into a two-lane bridge. Adding the Chuckatuck Creek Bridge to the priority list would have been a solution to a much broader set of problems, including one that is possibly even more vexing to more Suffolk residents than the one that city officials and transportation planners attempted to address.

As development continues to add traffic to the northern part of Suffolk, it’s only a matter of time before increasing the number of lanes crossing the Chuckatuck Creek becomes a necessity. Planners should be preparing for that need today.