A needed railroad solution

Published 10:08 pm Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It’s a frustrating and dangerous situation that many Suffolk drivers have experienced. A train blocks the railroad crossing at the intersection of Nansemond Parkway and Wilroy Road, and vehicles are backed up along both roads at the traffic signal. As five minutes becomes 10 and then 15 or 20, the temptation to skirt the traffic grows, even in light of the danger associated with doing so.

Two vehicles — one intent on turning right, across the tracks, from Wilroy, and one determined to head straight across the same tracks from Nansemond Parkway — can snarl scores of other vehicles that would otherwise not have their progress arrested by the train.

There are other railroad crossings that cause Suffolk drivers headaches on a regular basis — the North Main Street crossing at Prentis Street costs motorists countless hours each year — but there may be none so maddening as this one, where many in the stalled traffic can clearly see the open road they wish to travel, stretching almost as unattainable before them as if it were on the other side of a minefield.

Email newsletter signup

Since 2010, according to Public Works Director Eric Nielsen, 67 accidents have occurred at the intersection, with three of them directly attributable to motorists crossing into the wrong lane to get around cars waiting on the train, only to collide with a car coming in the opposite direction. In the minefield analogy, those three crashes would be the people who wouldn’t wait for the sweepers to clear the way.

But there’s relief on the way in both the long and the short terms. Suffolk officials have announced they will commence a $2.2-million project next year to build right-turn lanes on both Wilroy and Nansemond Parkway. In the meantime, the city will erect signs and flashing lights requiring drivers to proceed along the open road when a train is blocking the tracks.

The change will benefit a substantial majority of drivers, according to Nielsen. A one-day traffic count recently found about 7 percent of drivers — only 267 cars — approaching the intersection on Wilroy Road turned right across the tracks onto Nansemond Parkway, while 93 percent turned left onto Nansemond Parkway. Only 28 percent of those approaching on Nansemond Parkway went straight across the tracks.

The short-term change will represent a slight inconvenience for the drivers forced to turn away from their preferred routes, circle back and then take long detours to their destinations. But it will be a godsend to the vast majority of drivers. And the long-term solution should be a win for everybody involved.

Now, if we could only solve the problem on North Main Street….