Fix Route 58 problem now

Published 10:04 am Saturday, January 15, 2011

Two weeks ago, another serious accident occurred along a treacherous stretch of Route 58 in Courtland. It’s long past time to seriously address, once and for all, the issue of safety along this busy corridor.

For those of us who travel this route every day, the hazards are well known: a blind and dangerous curve, inadequate turn lanes, increasing development and a speed limit that exceeds what is safe and reasonable for road conditions and traffic density.

This one-mile stretch of highway, which extends from the traffic light at Business 58 to the intersection of Story’s Station Road, has seen more than its fair share of accidents over the years. While many have been minor, there have been a number of fatalities.

There are two solutions available to improve both safety and the flow of traffic, and they can and should be implemented immediately.

First, the maximum allowable speed should be reduced from the current 55 mph to a more reasonable 45 mph. This is the only stretch of Route 58, at least that I am aware of, from the oceanfront to Interstate 85 and beyond that is so heavily developed without a reduction in speed limit.

Those who oppose a reduction in the speed limit, claiming it will impede the flow of traffic, have obviously never sat still on Southampton Parkway while rescue crews remove vehicle debris caused by an accident.

Secondly, the Route 58 interchange project must be completed. For 20 years this project, which includes a flyover interchange where Business 58 intersects with Southampton Parkway/Route 58, has been ready to go, pending state funding, and remains Southampton County’s highest-priority transportation project.

The new interchange would both improve the flow of traffic and improve safety by eliminating two at-grade crossings at an extremely busy intersection. This change should have an immediate and positive impact by eliminating the need for one traffic signal and eliminating a number of serious rear-end and side-impact collisions.

According to Virginia Department of Transportation statistics, the average number of vehicles traveling along Route 58 between Franklin and Courtland every day has grown from 7,050 vehicles in 1975 to 20,000 vehicles in 2009, with peak travel days seeing as many as 35,000 vehicles. At that rate of growth, traffic would increase to nearly 60,000 vehicles per day by 2035, and estimates conclude that the number of tractor-trailers utilizing this stretch of highway will increase 25 percent by 2013.

Commercial growth and development continue along this one-mile stretch of state highway, and as the traffic that travels through Southampton County on its way to and from the ports in Hampton Roads to nearby interstates increases, these safety hazards left unaddressed will only increase.

Additionally, this project could qualify for federal funds as a shovel-ready project and be paid for out of the windfall of VDOT funds uncovered during the audit of 2010.

It is time for the Virginia Department of Transportation to see the interchange project through and reduce the speed limit on Route 58 in Courtland. With the General Assembly now in session, Delegate Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt, and Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk, should put this issue, the safety of their constituents, at the top of their legislative agenda.