• 81°

City breaks ground on $84 million Route 58 expansion project

By the volume of trucks and cars on U.S. Route 58 around 2 p.m. on a rainy afternoon, the need for improvements to a 3.1-mile stretch of road was clear to those on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony for the $84 million project that is the largest in city history.

It certainly has been clear to most drivers moving through the corridor.

More than 10 years in the making, the improvements along a heavily traveled stretch of road from the west end of the Suffolk Bypass past the Sadler Truck Plaza to the new entrance to the 940-acre Virginia Port Logistics Park will include an extra lane on each side of Route 58, intersection and traffic signal upgrades and safety improvements for cars getting on or off the road.

It will also include turn lanes, curb and gutters, raised medians, enhanced stormwater features and a path and sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Ultimately, what we are doing is modernizing this highway plus expanding it,” said Interim Public Works Director Robert Lewis following the June 3 ceremony.

The current construction estimate is $43.3 million, with another $3.7 million having gone to preliminary engineering, and the remaining money going toward acquiring right-of-way from about 200 landowners.

Christopher Hall, district administrator and engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Hampton Roads district, said the project illustrates the level of confidence and trust between the agency and the city to get it done.

Not counting the $3.8 billion expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, Hall said the region has a roughly $6 billion to $7 billion program, rivaling northern Virginia in infrastructure investment.

The Route 58 project, Hall said, is among the two largest in the region.

“It just underscores our ability here, which is unique to the Hampton Roads region,” Hall said, “how much we leverage and count on our local partners to deliver a large portion of our program.”

Relocating utilities have been part of the early work on the project, which has been divided into four phases. The first, six- to nine-month phase involves putting down “temporary” pavement on the north side of the road for two new westbound lanes of Route 58. This will allow for two lanes of traffic both east and westbound.

The second phase, expected to take about a year, westbound traffic would shift to the “temporary” pavement and eastbound traffic shifting to the former westbound lanes. Contractors are expected to make permanent improvements to eastbound lanes in this phase.

Once that is complete, a third phase will include shifting all traffic to the south side of the median and building permanent improvements for westbound lanes. Much of the curb and gutter work is expected to happen prior to shifting traffic back to outside lanes in the appropriate direction and constructing permanent median improvements in the last phase, expected to take an additional nine months.

Councilman Tim Johnson, whose Johnson’s Gardens business at 3201 Holland Road sits just west of the project area, said the improvements are long overdue, but he cautioned people driving through the area to be patient and be safe. Suffolk Police are monitoring speeds in the corridor, and speed limits have been set at 45 mph.

“It’s way past time,” Johnson said. “I think we’re at the point now where we really need to see it move forward as quickly as possible. You don’t have to stand here long to realize we’ve got to get this road built.”

He said this project is just the beginning for much-needed improvements throughout Route 58 in the city.

“You get to the end of where it is, right here by the swamp, we’ve got to pick it up and go all the way to Franklin now,” Johnson said. “The road is in bad shape from my place all the way to Franklin. The state needs to be aware. We’re going to need more money, and we need to continue the expansion. Just fixing this is not going to solve it.”

Lewis acknowledged as much.

“From the city staff viewpoint, this is the first step,” Lewis said. “We certainly recognize and know that this needs to continue on. We are still ongoing in the region with VDOT, with the port authority, with the HRTAC (Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Council) organization about how do we continue moving west, how do we continue to … modernize (Route 58) so it’s safe for people to drive.”

City officials also touted the potential economic and other tangible benefits to completing the project, noting its impacts on a regional, state and even international level, as well as to the Port of Virginia. Its director, Stephen Edwards, also attended the groundbreaking. The port promotes its location in part by noting its proximity to Interstates 64, 664 and 564, and U.S. Routes 17 and 58.

Sen. Mark Warner, in a visit last month to the Port of Virginia’s Virginia International Gateway terminal, noted Route 58’s role with the port and the overall transportation network in the Hampton Roads region. Improvement to the road, he said, needs to continue not only in Suffolk but to western areas of the state such as Patrick County.

The project is also in a corridor undergoing significant growth and development, with a proposed expansion of the Sadler Truck Plaza along with Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA’s new 355,933-square-foot distribution center nearing completion in the Virginia Port Logistics Park, owned by Equus Capital Partners.

An area along Holland Road and the newly created Enterprise Drive near the new distribution center has been rezoned to allow for a convenience store, gas station and a pair of drive-through restaurants. A utility pump station project is also ongoing, and a fire station has been proposed. Intersection improvements at Manning Bridge Road and Route 58 have also been incorporated into the overall scope of the project.

In future projects, Lewis said the goal would be to tie the sidewalks and bike trail in the current 3.1-mile stretch all the way to the bypass and into downtown.

City officials have said there will be community meetings and regular communication throughout the project. Lewis said the prime contractor for the project, Curtis Contracting, is obligated to keep two lanes of traffic open each way during peak drive times.

“That just means that what could have been done, possibly … faster,” Lewis said, “we’ve got to continue to serve our citizens as construction goes on.”

City Manager Al Moor recalled the opening of the Suffolk Bypass in 2003 and said the Route 58 project is another important expansion.

“It’s going to be a lot for the city, our local residents,” Moor said, “but more importantly, it’s a corridor to the region as we look at our ports and the commerce it brings to the city.”