All in on Route 460

Published 9:53 am Saturday, October 20, 2012

Virginia’s jobs governor has doubled down on a pet transportation project, committing taxpayer dollars where private equity once was considered essential to its fruition.

Give Bob McDonnell credit for persistence.

He promised in his 2009 campaign to push a new Route 460 from Suffolk to Petersburg as a centerpiece of his transportation and job-creation plans. Many, including this pundit, were skeptical about a four-year governor’s ability to pull it off.

This week, McDonnell announced that construction will begin in 2014, right after he leaves office.

That McDonnell was willing to pledge a billion dollars or more in public money to make the highway happen speaks to his determination.

He originally envisioned private interests fronting much of the money for design and construction, then recouping their investment by collecting tolls from motorists.

That model proved to be severely flawed, as the tolls would have been so exorbitant that few motorists, including commercial haulers, would have been willing to pay them.

Under the plan announced this week, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia Port Authority will put up the money for the project, and the tolls will be much more reasonable: $3.69 for cars and $11.72 for trucks on the 55-mile stretch.

The new Route 460 could prove to be a legacy definer for McDonnell, who has alienated more than a few constituents with his dogged persistence on getting the highway built.

Many Hampton Roads leaders see better, more urgent ways for VDOT to spend its precious resources. A third bridge/tunnel, the so-called Patriots Crossing, is one. It would connect the northwest corner of Norfolk near the port and naval station to Craney Island and the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.

Along the new 460’s route, rural residents and business owners, including some in Southampton County, don’t want the disruption that a new highway will cause to their property and to existing commerce.

The new highway will be interstate-quality, with few interchanges, meaning motorists who use it will buy fewer snacks and beverages in Ivor and fewer plate lunches in Wakefield.

Some fiscal conservatives think it’s simply a waste of money — that the existing Route 460 and Interstate 64 could be improved for much less.

McDonnell is undeterred.

His billion-dollar bet is that the highway will help spur an explosion of port-related commerce and build a private-sector economy that will more than offset what looks to be a certain loss of military-related jobs in the decades ahead.

Steve Stewart is the publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at