A needed project

Published 8:21 am Friday, November 13, 2009

The sympathy expressed by state and federal elected officials since International Paper Co. announced the closure of its Franklin mill has been nice. What this community needs even more from those leaders is action.

We are grateful to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, who have moved beyond the rhetoric and gone to bat for accelerated federal funding of upgrades to U.S. 58/Holland Road in western Suffolk.

Virginia’s senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, asking him to consider the impact of the mill’s closure as he reviews a grant application from the city of Suffolk for improvements to Route 58. Suffolk applied for the grant under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program to help support CenterPoint Properties’ development of a massive intermodal warehouse and distribution park in the area of Lakeland High School.

That project is critically important for a couple of reasons.

First, it will provide jobs for the people of Western Tidewater. Those jobs will be needed more than ever when the paper mill shuts down next spring. CenterPoint projects the creation of about 3,000 jobs, many of which will be held by residents of Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County.

Second, Route 58 is the gateway to economic development in Western Tidewater. For that potential to be fully achieved, the highway itself must be wide enough to accommodate the increased commercial and residential traffic as the area grows.

Route 58 already is Virginia’s primary east-west route. Franklin and Southampton County’s location on that corridor positions our area perfectly for manufacturing and distribution facilities that require easy access to the Port of Virginia on the east and Interstate 95 on the west. However, truck traffic must be able to smoothly navigate congested Suffolk to get cargo into and out of Western Tidewater.

In a time of lean state funding for transportation projects, the federal government is the best hope for a Route 58 expansion that could cost up to $100 million. We commend Warner and Webb for putting their political muscle behind the project.