Not the end of the road

Published 9:39 pm Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hampton Roads took a big step toward guaranteeing the future of the Southeastern Public Service Authority beyond its scheduled termination date of Jan. 1, 2018 this week.

When members of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission agreed to include money in their first budget to build an overpass above Route 58 at the SPSA landfill in Suffolk, it became clear that they’d like Suffolk to retain the burden of hosting the landfill.

It remains to be seen what Suffolk’s partners in the regional waste agency are willing to give the city in return for the problems it accepts as part of the price of hosting the landfill. Residents can only hope the landfill overpass, along with another proposed to be built at the nearby Chesapeake Regional Airport, does not represent the best deal Suffolk can get.

Email newsletter signup

In fact, it’s likely the other Hampton Roads and Western Tidewater municipalities involved in SPSA will try to change the terms under which the agency currently operates. In consideration for hosting the landfill, Suffolk’s original deal with partner localities allows the city to use the landfill free of charge, and outside of Suffolk, that arrangement has become decreasingly popular as time marched on and the tipping fees climbed for the other cities and counties involved.

But it’s widely known that the landfill interchange on Route 58 is a problem. It’s a dangerous place, and accidents there tend to tie up traffic for hours on end. Suffolk officials have good reason to want to improve the interchange by adding a flyover-type overpass that would keep landfill traffic from having to cross the highway at grade.

Building the overpass could be seen by the rest of Hampton Roads as a sufficient enticement for Suffolk to participate in SPSA beyond 2018 by continuing to host the landfill, but this time as a paying customer. There will be some allure to the proposal, too, since the landfill interchange would be problematic whether SPSA were operating the landfill or Suffolk was doing so for itself.

But the problems brought about by hosting the landfill go beyond traffic, and the city should be steadfast in demanding that any new agreement on SPSA include at least reduced fee schedules for Suffolk trash delivered there. Such demands might not be popular among the other SPSA participants, but they are fair compensation for the environmental and economic impacts of hosting a landfill big enough to serve all of South Hampton Roads.

The overpass is a good step for Suffolk’s partner localities in SPSA, but Suffolk officials cannot afford to allow it to be the end of the road.