A realistic look at needs

Published 7:16 pm Saturday, November 24, 2012

With Virginia having benefitted from another year of budget surpluses in 2012, there’s little doubt the pressure will be on this winter for the General Assembly to find money to fund projects that have gone wanting through the lean years of the Great Recession and the slow recovery that followed.

Suffolk’s political and administrative leaders will begin applying that pressure on Tuesday, when they are set to meet over dinner at the Obici House with members of the city’s delegation to the General Assembly.

This will be the second year the city has held the event since the statewide decennial redistricting and subsequent elections that gave Suffolk a largely new set of state legislators. It’s a chance for everybody to get to know each other and for the state legislators to get to know the city and its special needs, an especially important consideration, since so few of them now have ties to Peanut City.

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Unsurprisingly, topping the legislative wish list for Suffolk will be transportation issues, and they are not small issues. A second bridge across the Nansemond River on Route 17 to alleviate congestion on the existing Godwin Bridge. Replacement of the Kimberly Bridge and elevation of a portion of North Main Street to reduce flooding in that area. Safety upgrades at railroad crossings. And, of course, replacement of the King’s Highway Bridge. Each of those items will have an effect on the mid-term and long-term economic development prospects in Suffolk.

None of those items will come cheap, though, and Suffolk doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in August of getting the state to commit to much, if any, of the list, especially given the great hole Virginia legislators have dug themselves in regards to the commonwealth’s transportation funding formula.

The unfortunate fact is that most of Suffolk’s needs will seem insignificant when compared to the need to reduce traffic on the arteries between the Peninsula and Richmond, the need to alleviate congestion on the Southside of Hampton Roads and the need to further manage the growing nightmare of traffic in Northern Virginia. And none of those needs even begins to address the issue of regular highway maintenance, whose funds transportation officials are projecting will run out within five years.

Suffolk officials are right to continue making their highway needs known to state legislators. If folks in Hampton Roads have learned nothing else during the past three decades of transportation-funding morass, they’ve surely come to realize that only those who complain the loudest and the longest get any appreciable attention to their highway needs.

Still, though, it would be wise to temper any enthusiasm for the city’s mid-term economic development prospects with the reality that Route 58, the railroads, the Kimberly area and the Nansemond River crossings will continue to be Suffolk’s own transportation problems for the foreseeable future.