McDonnell looks to jump start toll road

Published 11:52 am Saturday, April 17, 2010

FRANKLIN—In an effort to jump start plans for a private, limited-access toll road from Petersburg to Suffolk, the state secretary of transportation said Friday that Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration could restart or reopen the entire process within the next two months.

Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said the current public-private process to get the road built had been under way for nearly five years but has been suspended for most of that time.

“We are essentially going to be reopening that process,” Connaughton said. “We have some new concepts about how to structure a potential deal which would not require any state or federal money. We’re going to be moving forward with that very quickly. We’re going to try to have something potentially out within 60 days.”

Connaughton declined to elaborate on what those new concepts were, but said, “we are making sure (that) if we move forward with these concept that they are valid concepts. We’re doing that right now. We’re either going to terminate the previous process or reopen that process to move to the next step. We trying to move the process forward and hopefully identify a successful bidder.”

Three companies — Itinere Infrastructure, Cintra and Virginia Corridor Partners — have been involved with the U.S. Route 460 Improvements Project, a plan to construct a 55-mile, four-lane divided highway from Interstate 295 in Prince George County to the U.S. Route 58 bypass in Suffolk.

Itinere, a Spanish company based in Madrid, withdrew from the procurement process for the project last year. The company’s general manager said the toll road was “not a self-sustainable project” and complained about a lack of state funding.

“Things have happened with that company,” Connaughton said of Itinere. “We’re essentially down to two companies right now, but we need to have confirmation that they’re out.”

Connaughton said the state has “had lengthy conversations” with Cintra, which is also based in Madrid, and Virginia Corridor Partners, a partnership between Australian bank Macquarie Group Limited and Skanska Infrastructure Development of Alexandria.

“The governor has made the 460 project a major priority for the administration,” Connaughton said. “He recognizes the need for the road, for emergency evacuation from the Tidewater area, as well as for economic development and congestion relief. We’re working on what is the best option that will allow us to move forward quickly, but that is also legally sound.”

During a campaign stop at The Tidewater News on Aug. 11, McDonnell called the toll road “the most important project in the Hampton Roads region.”

“I don’t think we ought to make any more excuses about why we can’t get that road built,” McDonnell said at the time.

Thomas Wright, who represents the Windsor District on the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, said he is encouraged that the McDonnell administration is trying to get the road project moving forward.

“I’m really glad that he’s putting forth an effort that will help the economy of this section of the county,” Wright said Friday. “It will give a straight shock to the interstate system and will really help the (Shirley T. Holland) intermodal park.”

Asked if he had any objections to the highway being a private toll road, Wright said, “If it’s a toll, that’s all right with me as long as the toll is feasible.”

Connaughton said the toll road might not be signed as an interstate.

“We’ve modified that element of it,” the secretary said. “To be able to move forward fairly rapidly it would not be an interstate or be part of the federal system. We would essentially have a true private toll road.”

On Jan. 18, 2007, the Commonwealth Transportation Board selected Candidate Build Alternative No. 1, an alignment south of existing U.S. Route 460, for the new highway. The road will traverse Prince George, Sussex, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, and end in the city of Suffolk.

Nine interchanges are proposed for the toll road, including Ivor Road (Virginia Route 616) south of Ivor, and Walters Highway (U.S. Route 258) in Windsor. The other seven exits would be at I-295 and Virginia Routes 156 and 625 in Prince George County, Virginia Routes 40, 602 and 620 in Sussex County, and the U.S. Route 58 bypass in Suffolk.