Route 460 project on hold

Published 11:52 am Friday, January 17, 2014


RICHMOND—Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s new transportation secretary told a Virginia General Assembly committee Tuesday that spending has been stopped on the Route 460 project because of permit issues.

Aubrey Layne gave the update on the future toll road, for which the U.S. Army of Engineers has resisted issuing a permit, while responding to a question on ensuring permits are in place before progressing with transportation projects in the commonwealth, said Del. Davis Rust, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

“He said in essence that projects would not go forward without all the approvals in place,” Rust said, stipulating he was not speaking for the secretary, and adding he believed Layne also said spending on the 460 has been stopped.

“He specifically mentioned the 460. That’s my interpretation of it.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation reported payments to the toll road’s private-sector developer of more than $204 million for Dec. 20, 2012 through October, and projected spending an additional estimated $74 million in January.

The Corps says the $1.4-billion road, from Suffolk to Petersburg, would destroy too much wetlands to be in the public interest and has asked VDOT to look more closely at expanding the existing 460 instead.

Trip Pollard, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who observed the committee meeting, said halting altogether a project he referred to as a “boondoggle” would have been preferable to what Layne announced.

Pollard believes that while the secretary did not expressly say this Tuesday, spending will continue on work needed to try to secure necessary permits.

“The McAuliffe Administration’s decision — as I understand it — to slow the spending on this proposal is prudent,” Pollard said in an email.

“But they will need to be vigilant to ensure that additional spending is in fact limited to what is needed to try to secure the necessary permits. Recent spending has gone well beyond that.”

The transportation secretary’s comments on 460 come after Gov. Terry McAuliffe voiced concerns over the project in early December.

Currently, when — or if — the new road opens in 2018, driving its entire length would initially cost cars $3.69, while trucks would pay $11.72.

Project supporters say the new Route 460 would serve as an evacuation route, would take trucks off the existing road, would spread benefits of the port to rural Virginia and would improve national security.

Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Layne declined to discuss his comments, indicating the subject would be covered during the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s Wednesday meeting.