North Suffolk road projects planned

Published 9:51 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Traffic crosses the Godwin Bridge on Tuesday afternoon. The bridge would be duplicated under plans to improve roads in North Suffolk.

Traffic crosses the Godwin Bridge on Tuesday afternoon. The bridge would be duplicated under plans to improve roads in North Suffolk.

City officials hope some of the dedicated new revenue for highway projects in Hampton Roads filters down to local needs, many of which are in the North Suffolk growth corridor.

One major project in the north the city is planning to at least get started on is improving Shoulders Hill Road between Nansemond Parkway and Bridge Road.

The Virginia Department of Transportation Six-Year Improvement Program estimates the three-mile-long project to relieve congestion would cost a little more than $41 million.

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About $2.25 million is allocated so far, a mixture of state and federal money with some local matching funds.

Eric Nielsen, Suffolk’s public works director, says that more up-to-date estimates, using an inflation-adjusted projected year of construction escalation, puts the project at $95 million — more than double the earlier projection in today’s dollars.

Given the “significant” cost and the fact that the full scope of the project “isn’t a big priority right now,” the city is concentrating on the Bridge Road intersection, Nielsen said.

The city’s latest capital improvements plan outlines spending $17.4 million on that during the next five years, anticipating half from VDOT’s revenue sharing program.

“One of the important things is the intersection (is) failing as far as congestion,” Nielsen said of the section the city will focus on first.

The CIP indicates widening Bridge Road to three lanes in both directions between Walden Road and about halfway between the Shoulders Hill Road intersection and Windward Lane, and about 1,000 feet of Shoulders Hill Road to two lanes north and southbound. Turn lanes are also included.

Nielsen also drew attention to two Bridge Road intersection projects currently under construction: at Lee Farm Lane, at a cost of about $1 million, and at Bennetts Pasture Road, at more than $1.3 million.

New lights and traffic signals will connect with the city’s traffic operations center, he said, allowing remote adjustments to be made.

According to Nielsen, that’s a boon for motorists when, for instance, an accident on Interstate 664 or I-64 increases traffic volumes across the James River Bridge and on Route 17.

When that occurred recently, “we had to get someone (to) drive out there” and make the necessary adjustments to signals, Nielsen said.

“Residents will see greatly improved traffic flow” from the intersection improvements, Nielsen said.
Much costlier future projects are widening the whole stretch of Route 17 within the city. VDOT recently put the cost at $251 million, he said.

Attendant to that project is duplicating the Mills E. Godwin Jr. Bridge, which Nielsen said VDOT recently priced at $96 million.

“These numbers are currently being reviewed and refined by city staff, VDOT and HRPDC (Hampton Roads Planning District Commission) staff and are based on projected year of construction escalation,” according to Nielsen.

Nielsen says the city hopes some of the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund’s estimated annual $150 million-plus revenue — created by the 2013 Virginia General Assembly — will “filter down” to provide the city of Suffolk some much-needed funds for such projects.

“The dollar amounts are just staggering,” he said.

The Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission — the regional body state lawmakers also created two years ago to decide which projects benefit from the fund — will determine whether that occurs for Suffolk. Thirteen other constituent localities will be holding out similar hopes.

Two of the commission’s 19 voting members represent Suffolk — Mayor Linda T. Johnson and Delegate Chris Jones, who was the funding mechanism’s key architect.