Column – Getting around is getting harder in IW

Published 7:46 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Spoiled by my three-block pedestrian commute to the office, I depend on Better Half for local traffic reports.

She’d been telling me for months that her daily drive down Route 10 to Suffolk – once a reliable 30 minutes – now routinely takes 40. And it’s not the Suffolk end of the commute that’s gotten longer. It’s from Chuckatuck north to Wharf Hill, she insisted.

To the east, loyal Times reader Tom Allen emails me every time he’s stuck in traffic on the James River Bridge. The emails have become more frequent. Much as I’d like to tell Tom I feel his pain, the reality is that I haven’t, avoiding routes in and out of Smithfield during weekday mornings and evening commute times at all cost.

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Until Friday afternoon.

A medical appointment in North Suffolk gave us no choice but to tempt fate on Route 17. En route back home around 4:30, we turned on to Brewers Neck Boulevard and within a mile came to a complete stop, cars as far west as we could see. “Must be a wreck,” I told Better Half. Except it wasn’t. We crept for the next 10 minutes the 2½ miles to Benn’s Church, never seeing a wreck or even roadwork to blame as we inched along.

This appears to be the new normal for Isle of Wight, a place many transplants chose to get away from traffic, not sit in it.

The problem will get worse. New homes will spring up on the old Mallory and Scott farms in the years ahead – some 800 when it’s all said and done. Joe Luter’s Grange at 10Main will add 250 more apartments and homes if it gains the Town Council’s blessing as expected. Construction already is underway on The Crossings, which will bring 200-plus condos to Carrollton Boulevard.

For the record, I’m not anti-growth. Communities that attempt to maintain the status quo are rarely successful. My experience in four decades of community journalism is that towns either go forward or backward. Isle of Wight is fortunate to be a community on the move.

Successful communities are those that manage their growth, mostly because citizens demand it. Locally, my observation is that citizens who are sincerely concerned about too much growth, too quickly, devote a disproportionate share of their energy to project-specific outrage. Mallory Scott opponents packed Smithfield Center for Planning Commission and Town Council meetings, and Grange critics will likely to the same.

More impactful would be heavy citizen involvement during occasional updates of town and county comprehensive plans. Smithfield is wrapping up such an update, and despite fairly aggressive efforts by the town to solicit citizen input, got relatively little. Parallel debate about a new mixed-use zoning designation for large developments hasn’t drawn near the citizen interest as, say, the Mallory Scott rezoning.

Having read the latest draft, I believe the town has done a good job on its comprehensive plan update. I’d like to see more discussion by city and county officials about road improvements sorely needed to handle upcoming growth. Bicycle and pedestrian paths are fine, but unlike in urban areas, they do nothing to relieve congestion in rural areas, where cars are a necessity.

Western Tidewater must become more assertive in securing funds through the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, which mostly controls the purse strings for major road projects in the region. Rural communities are at a disadvantage in what is largely an urban, population-driven method of doling out funds.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is