County renews push for Courtland overpass

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 12, 2007

FRANKLIN—Eighteen years ago, when Southampton County began asking for an overpass at the intersection of U.S. Route 58 and Business Route 58 east of Courtland, 12,000 vehicles a day traveled the stretch of highway.

Today, more than 21,000 vehicles drive on the Courtland bypass every day, with peak levels of 35,000.

There is still no overpass.

Last summer, in an effort to reduce the number of traffic crashes at the intersection, the Virginia Department of Transportation erected a traffic signal to control the flow of vehicles.

But Southampton County leaders want to be sure state officials don’t get the impression the signal is a viable long-term solution, so they sent County Administrator Michael Johnson to Chesapeake this week to press again for the overpass that would physically separate traffic at the interchange.

&uot;Until it’s built, I promise you that I won’t let any opportunity pass without keeping this project in front of you,&uot; he told the Commonwealth Transportation Board during a hearing Tuesday in Chesapeake.

The meeting gave Johnson and others a chance to lobby for their pet projects before the group that will set VDOT’s road-building and maintenance priorities for the next six years.

It was the first of nine scheduled public hearings to be held across the state to give citizens a chance to weigh in on VDOT’s proposed $11 billion budget.

The Courtland interchange has been in and out of the transportation board’s six-year plan for much of the past two decades. In just the last four years, more than $4 million has been spent to do preliminary engineering and purchase right-of-ways, Johnson said.

&uot;We’re grateful for the engineering, we’re grateful for the signal, and we’re grateful to still be included in your pared-down list of projects,&uot; he added. &uot;I’m here again tonight to encourage you to continue to move this project to construction as soon as possible.&uot;

Johnson warned the board that planners project the number of tractor trailers using Route 58 will increase by 25 percent by 2013 as a result of increasing amounts of freight going into and out of the Port of Hampton Roads.

&uot;Ladies and gentlemen, Route 58 is no longer a rural, tranquil, peaceful drive through the country,&uot; he said.

Johnson also warned the transportation board that its plans for improvements to Route 460 risk losing the support of Southampton County residents and officials if they omit an Ivor-area interchange.

Johnson said the fact that only $20.7 million had been set aside in a draft budget for the portions of the road that would traverse Sussex and Southampton indicates the board’s current plans do not include funding four interchanges that early plans indicated would be built in those counties.

&uot;Now, I can’t speak for Sussex, but I can tell you that Southampton County would be livid if the new Route 460 included no interchange for access,&uot; he said. &uot;Just as the World Wide Web is worthless without a computer, so is a new highway without an interchange.&uot;

Early designs and plans presented during four public meetings held in the spring showed the new road with an interchange at Route 616 in Ivor, one at Route 620 in Wakefield, one at Route 40 in Waverly and one at Route 602 in Sussex County.

In January, Southampton’s Board of Supervisors expressed alarm at indications that an interchange planned for the county might be omitted from contractors’ proposals.

&uot;I have been directed to clearly communicate Southampton County’s ardent opposition to any alternative that defers or delays construction of the interchange at State Route 616,&uot; Johnson wrote in a January letter to VDOT.