New Courtland interchange may fall victim to budget cuts

Published 8:10 am Friday, March 27, 2009

COURTLAND—Southampton County’s 20-year quest for an interchange on U.S. Route 58 east of Courtland may have hit a dead end, as the project has become one of more than 800 being deferred or eliminated by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

But a suggested alternative to the interchange isn’t expected to be built anytime soon, either.

Faced with a $2.6 million shortfall, VDOT is looking for ways to save money yet keep highways safe for motorists.

One proposal is to abandon plans to build an interchange along 58 east of Courtland and substitute it with an at-grade intersection. The suggestion has been to realign Virginia Route 742, Old Bridge Road, to the south so that it intersects with Business Route 58, Jerusalem Road, and 58 at a new signal. The existing signal at Jerusalem Road and 58 would need to be moved slightly for that realignment.

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors was told Monday that although there is adequate funding in VDOT’s Six-Year Improvement Program for the preliminary engineering and right-of-way acquisition costs for an at-grade intersection, there is no money for construction.

The engineering and right-of-way costs are about $2.7 million and $1.3 million, respectively, while construction would cost about $24.2 million.

Part of the proposal calls for building a turning lane on 58, about 250 to 300 feet before the 7-Eleven to all the way past Dairy Queen.

Another part of the proposal calls for 700 feet of the former Old Bridge Road, starting with where it currently meets 58, to be removed.

In 1989, 12,000 vehicles traveled on 58 every day where it meets Jerusalem Road. By 2007, that number had increased to more than 21,000 vehicles per day.

VDOT is also proposing to change the way snow and ice are removed from secondary roadways and how often vegetation along the sides of roadways is mowed.

“What’s near and dear to your hearts (is) vegetation,” said Joe Lomax, the VDOT Franklin Residency administrator. “We’re going to reduce vegetation management for up to $20 million statewide, which would include mowing.”

VDOT is proposing to mow ditches once a summer, whether they need it or not.

“If there’s a safety issue, we’ll still be addressing it,” Lomax said. “We might not do (an) all out (mowing), but if there’s a specific route that the school bus needs to get, then we’ll probably have to address that for safety purposes.”

Lomax cited sight distances for mowing, intersections, curves and sight distances for school buses as things that VDOT would take special care in addressing.

“This whole plan is still a work in progress,” Lomax said. “Until the (Commonwealth Transportation Board) adopts it in June, it’s just a proposal. But the bottom line is we don’t have the money that we used to. At some point we have to tailor our services to accommodate the money that we have.”

Lomax added, “Not only are we making cuts, but we’re reorganizing to put dollars on the centerline and on those bridges. That may mean sacrificing other services until things change, or maybe never. It may stay like this, I don’t know.”

Any changes adopted by VDOT would take effect in July, Lomax said.

VDOT Commissioner David Ekern told Southampton County officials that the department would be conducting staffing changes and restructuring.

In a letter to the county dated March 5, Ekern said VDOT “will reduce 1,000 classified and 450 part-time staff in its construction development program, field operations and administrative functions, and will consolidate 15 residency offices and 36 equipment repair facilities around the Commonwealth in the next 18 months.”

The Franklin Residency currently serves the cities of Emporia and Franklin, and Greensville and Southampton counties.

“Our residency is not being closed,” Lomax said. “The proposal is for Williamsburg (to close). At that point we will take Isle of Wight County, and then we’ll have three counties. We’ll take their forces over there and bring them under our umbrella.”

VDOT is building a new headquarters for the Franklin Residency on Virginia Route 35 just outside of Courtland.