A matter of safety?

Published 10:32 am Saturday, October 25, 2014

Each morning as I travel along Rt. 58 from Capron to Franklin on my way to work, I cruise past Southampton High School and Southampton Middle School. And then, on my way home each evening, I travel the same stretch of road past the same schools. The morning trip, because it more closely coincides with the day’s first school bell than the afternoon ride does the day’s last, requires me to navigate much heavier school-related traffic.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, that particular stretch of Rt. 58 is a divided four-lane highway with a 60 miles per hour speed limit. There is a break in the divider right in front of the high school, and there is normally a line of cars traveling from the east whose drivers are waiting to turn left into the school’s main entrance. In order to safely do so, each driver must wait for the traffic coming from the west to speed by before proceeding across two lanes of highway and into the student parking lot. I can personally attest to the fact that most of those drivers are fairly young, and could not possibly have more than a year or two of driving experience under their belt.

In the nearly eight years that I have been making that same commute to and from work, I have witnessed many close calls at that particular entrance to the school. Yet I have never once heard public discussion regarding the safety of those children who drive themselves to school on such a heavily travelled stretch of highway and cross two lanes of traffic to enter the school grounds. And I have never heard of the board of supervisors being asked to take up such a matter.

On Monday, the Southampton County board of supervisors will hold a public hearing on the rezoning of property at the intersection of Rt. 35 and Ridley Road, which is across the road from another entrance to Southampton Middle School and Southampton High School. The owner of the property has indicated a desire to develop a convenience center there, which may include a fueling station and a fast food restaurant. For his part, the owner of the property hired a Professional Engineer to study the traffic and safety implications of developing the property for his desired intent. The Virginia Department of Transportation conducted a similar study. Both determined the project to be suitable.

However, a handful of county residents spoke in opposition when the matter was before the county planning commission. One has even written a couple of letters to The Tidewater News opposing it as well. Their reason stated for opposing the rezoning? The safety of the students who would be entering and exiting the school’s property near an intersection with a convenience store.

As for the danger these same students face when they cross two lanes of traffic on a highway with a 60 miles per hour speed limit to turn into the same school complex from a different direction? Well, that has never been brought up.

So, I’m left with only two plausible reasons as to why people would really oppose this rezoning request. Either they are only selectively concerned about the safety of our youngest drivers, or they have an axe to grind with the landowner who wants to develop his property.

In my opinion, neither is a good enough reason for the board to deny this rezoning request.

TONY CLARK is the publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at 562-3187 or tony.clark@tidewaternews.com