Forbes: Route 58 funding is ‘vital’

Published 11:23 am Saturday, November 14, 2009

WASHINGTON—A wider Route 58 is “vital” and will “stimulate economic development” in the region — especially considering the impeding closure of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill, according to U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes.

Forbes announced Friday that he asked U.S. James Oberstar, D-Minn, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to pass a permanent transportation reauthorization bill that includes funding for the Route 58/Holland Road widening project in Suffolk.

Forbes submitted a request to the committee for federal funding to widen the current four-lane road to six lanes for about three miles between downtown Suffolk and Franklin. However, the project has not yet been considered because of a delay in passing a permanent reauthorization bill for federal transportation projects.

“Now more than ever, this request is vital,” Forbes wrote in a letter to Oberstar. “The closure of the mill is a devastating blow to the entire community and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and we must do what we can to encourage other economic development opportunities.”

Forbes said the Route 58 project would strengthen the transportation infrastructure and attract investors to the region to develop intermodal warehouse and distribution facilities. The construction and operation of these would facilitate job growth and encourage future investment in the region, Forbes said.

Forbes isn’t the only lawmaker trying to get funding for the Route 58 project. Last week, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb sent a joint 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 to make improvements to the highway. Warner and Webb’s letter states that the project “has the potential to generate thousands of new jobs.”