Surprise lurks behind 460 improvements

Published 10:17 pm Monday, June 29, 2015

Visit the Suffolk News-Herald’s website and search for the words “Route 58 crash,” and the results document a saga of deaths and serious injuries.

It seems a week can’t go by without tragedy striking on the four-lane highway between Bowers Hill and Suffolk.

The most recent of those accidents occurred on Thursday, when one person died in a two-vehicle accident westbound near the weigh scales.

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Driving past this eastbound on my way home, I saw the Dodge van crumpled in the median. I didn’t see the Honda sedan in which the driver died.

Later that night, I went to our website see just how bad it was. Sure enough, the headline read, “One dead in crash on Route 58.”

In another long saga, the one to improve Route 460, not a lot of attention has been paid to the follow-on effects Route 58 would experience.

Even building a new interstate-standard 460 to just west of Windsor and improving the existing 460 to the other side of the Blackwater River — the latest plan, developed after building a new road all way from Suffolk to Petersburg was deemed environmentally unfeasible — would add more traffic to 58, which is 460’s main feeder from the east.

Though not as much as if the new road went all the way through, the latest plan would still divert some traffic to Richmond from Interstate 64, and 58 would also gradually see more and more truck traffic as port customers sought to capitalize on the easier and quicker drive to Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park and other Western Tidewater port-related real estate.

Plans are afoot to improve Route 58 between Bowers Hill and the eastern end of the Suffolk Bypass. This $150-million project that the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission has started to advance, dubbed the US Route 460/58/13 Connector, includes improving the stretch of road to interstate standards and adding flyovers at the Regional Landfill and Hampton Roads Executive Airport.

Route 58 sorely requires this work even without any extra traffic from an improved Route 460.

Improving safety has been a hallmark of the argument for a new Route 460, but it’s ironic that doing so would add more traffic — and much of it trucks — to a stretch of 58 that’s also pretty scary.

The Connector project, which doesn’t include a median strip, because the road already has one, won’t improve safety enough to offset the more dangerous conditions created by more 460-bound truck traffic.

And what happens when all those extra trucks and cars enticed onto the improved 460 hit the crumbling old road west of Zuni?

There’s something else to worry about.