A bridge in the works

Published 9:38 pm Thursday, March 16, 2017

Everyone who has ever been caught by a train at the intersection of Nansemond Parkway and Wilroy Road, rejoice.

A solution to the obnoxious intersection, which snarls traffic — much of which isn’t even trying to cross the tracks — multiple times a day, is in the works. And it will cost city taxpayers only 30 percent of the bill.

“We’re proposing a significant, if not a radical, change in the scope and the approach to the traffic tie-ups at Nansemond and Wilroy roads,” City Manager Patrick Roberts told City Council members on Wednesday.

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The intersection features a pair of two-lane roads coming to a T near a set of train tracks, which run parallel to Wilroy Road and cross Nansemond Parkway. What makes it so unbearable is that trains cross the tracks multiple times a day, sometimes for 20 minutes or more at a time. And one vehicle trying to go south on Nansemond Parkway or turn right from Wilroy Road backs up the majority of traffic that is hoping to turn away from the tracks.

City leaders were getting close to construction on a $2.7-million project that would add turn lanes to the intersection, allowing a few vehicles to wait for the train while others could turn, thus eliminating part of the problem.

“This was not going to be a total fix,” city Public Works Director Eric Nielsen said Wednesday. “We only had stacking lanes for so many vehicles.”

But through working with state leaders, the city believes it has found a higher solution — literally.

Roberts announced during City Council’s work session on Wednesday that money has been set aside in the state budget to construct a bridge over the tracks.

The bridge would be high enough to accommodate double-stacked containers on the trains underneath it, which will be heading to and from the port. The project also includes a new traffic signal for the realigned intersection as well as pedestrian and bicycle accommodations.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be $25.7 million. The Virginia Department of Transportation has agreed to pay 70 percent — about $18 million — leaving the city with $7.7 million.

Roberts said money has been identified in the capital improvements plan.

The bridge will take a little longer to construct than the turn lanes would have. Nielsen said construction could begin in summer 2020 and be complete around February 2022.

Nielsen said the city has already spent about $850,000 toward the former plan involving the turn lanes, but some of the work completed using that money, such as the survey, will still be good for the new project.

“One of the really fortunate things is we were able to come up with this plan before we got under construction,” Nielsen said.

Sherry Earley, of Suffolk Public Works, said Thursday there is no way yet to know if the right-of-way already acquired will still be needed or if any of the houses near the intersection will need to be purchased and demolished.

“At this point, we just don’t know,” she said.

City Council members praised the new plan on Wednesday.

“It’s really a great story for Suffolk,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I don’t think there’s a person in Suffolk that has not been affected by that spot.”

She said the bridge will make the roads a better connector between downtown and North Suffolk.

“I’m sure everyone that lives out there in that area will be very appreciative,” Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said. “I think we can wait a couple more years.”

City leaders also praised state officials, particularly Delegate Chris Jones and Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne.

“It’s easy to think that Delegate Jones, being now in the position of the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, might have statewide concerns and perhaps lose focus of constituent issues,” Roberts said. “I think this is an example that illustrates that is absolutely not the case.”

For his part, Jones said in a phone interview Thursday that he is pleased with the result.

“I’ve worked closely with the city and with VDOT and the port over the years trying to find a solution,” Jones said. “It’s a much needed project and will bring welcome relief for that part of the city.”