Hold onto your hardhats

Published 9:55 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Those who make the case for regionalism among the cities of Hampton Roads often build that case on the aphorism, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

While that saying may be true, it misses the point that a tide rises only because of the outside force of the moon’s gravity pulling the water to a higher level. Without such an outside force, water tends to flow downward.

A more proper aphorism to depict the forces at work in a regional economy might be this one: “Water seeks its own level.” When two or more economies — or governments, or school systems or just about anything else — become one, the most likely outcome is that the weaker one will draw down the resources of the stronger. Without some external force (think higher taxes, in the example of regionalism), there is no real hope of an outcome in which both entities wind up in a better situation than the one in which they started.

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That’s a simplistic look at the problem, but simple explanations sometimes are the best ones in life — and they often are the correct ones.

Because of this simple explanation of the problems inherent in regionalism, we have often stood against the drumbeat for a regional approach to government in Hampton Roads. Suffolk simply shouldn’t pursue solutions to Norfolk’s problems, as any solution to the problems of Norfolk or the rest of Hampton Roads will only be effective with the administration of outside forces (again, think taxes) on Suffolkians and their way of life.

There is one potential exception to this reasoning, however, and it becomes evident when anyone in Hampton Roads — including here in Suffolk — begins talking about transportation. Simply put, the transportation problems of Norfolk or Virginia Beach or Chesapeake are ultimately the transportation problems of Suffolk.

That’s because so many people who live in Suffolk work and shop outside of this city and because so much of this city’s commerce depends on good roads connecting it to Chesapeake and Portsmouth and the rest of the region.

So a little road-widening project on an artery connecting Suffolk to Chesapeake is one example of an important exception to our general disdain for regionalism.

The Nansemond Parkway-Portsmouth Boulevard corridor has become a chokepoint for commerce between those two cities, and it has therefore been a deterrent to economic growth in Suffolk.

But a widening project that is expected to be complete in the fall of 2018 could change everything. The project will turn that highway into a four-lane road from Shoulders Hill Road in Suffolk to the Hodges Ferry Bridge in Chesapeake.

In the short term, that will mean more business for the Chesapeake Square area, but in the long term, it will open the door to development of the Suffolk portion of that road. Demand for commercial-grade properties in that part of Suffolk has long been bottled up by the lack of a good transportation artery. Once the road has been widened, however, developers will soon recognize how important that undeveloped area near I-664 can be to them.

Imagine a Town Center-type area or a Harbour View concept that’s more easily accessible to historic Suffolk, and you can see the possibilities. Western Branch doesn’t have the developable land necessary for such concepts, but the Nansemond Parkway corridor does.

Hold onto your hardhats. The next development boom could be just around the corner.