Holland Road solution needed

Published 10:56 pm Saturday, December 31, 2011

Back in 2008, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission graded the level of service of Holland Road at a “B.” Although there were warnings that the level service would deteriorate to an “F” by the year 2017 if significant improvements were not made to the highway, the HRPDC had generally positive things to say about traffic on the four-lane road at the time.

If members of the commission had sat in the traffic created on Wednesday by a lane closure brought about by an overturned tractor trailer, they might have marked the road’s grade as failing five years sooner than they’d predicted. It took 16 hours for workers to clear the road after Wednesday’s crash. And that wreck was just the most recent in a string of crashes described almost always as having “snarled traffic” since the release of that report.

As construction moves along at the CenterPoint Properties shipping and warehousing center along Holland and Kenyon roads — along with a few recent announcements of companies’ plans to move distribution centers and other industrial facilities into the Route 58 corridor between downtown Suffolk and Franklin — the stakes along this stretch of highway have never been greater.

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What looks like appealing highway access to a company thinking of moving to the area quickly becomes unacceptable loss of profit when trucks are left idling on the road in traffic stopped for hours behind a crash. And employees who cannot get to work because of snarled traffic are unable to earn money to spend in stores and restaurants, thereby contributing to the city’s tax coffers.

Suffolk officials hope the federal government will help solve the problem they exacerbated by approving the CenterPoint development without having a real plan for dealing with the traffic that already used Holland Road, not to mention the traffic that would be added to that highway by the new development. But it should come as no surprise that federal money for highway projects will be hard to come by for the foreseeable future. The same likely will be true of state money for Holland Road. And the city surely cannot afford the $50 million to $90 million that would be needed to widen the highway on its own.

Considering the economic realities, it’s hard to see a positive outcome for Holland Road within the near term. Therefore, Suffolk officials need to do what they can to mitigate the problems that will be created on Holland Road as more truck traffic begins to put more stress on the highway. At the very least, the city should put together a plan designed to clear the road of debris quickly and allow traffic to proceed while an accident is cleaned up and investigated. It won’t take many times of finding even a portion of the road closed for 16 hours — or even four, for that matter — before truckers and their employers decide Suffolk isn’t such a great place to do business, after all.

Which, one supposes, probably would take care of the traffic problem, after all.