VDOT suggests 460 schedule

Published 11:50 am Saturday, July 19, 2014

MATT WARD/matt.ward@suffolknewsherald.com
Special to The Tidewater News

Of the five Route 460 design alternatives under scrutiny, none has emerged as a clear leader, a VDOT environmental project manager says.

Since late last year, the state’s transportation department has been working toward updating the environment impact statement for five alternatives to improve the road between Suffolk and Petersburg.

The work was required when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressed serious concerns over the environmental impact of VDOT’s preferred design, and it became clear a needed Corps permit might not be issued.

State Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne cited the permit issue in March, when he formally announced the suspension of contract spending on the 55-mile, limited-access toll road, a public-private project.

VDOT’s Angel Deem presented the five alternatives currently being analyzed to the Commonwealth Transportation Board on Wednesday.

Those alternatives include the design for which VDOT previously announced a preference. This four-lane tolled design, south of the existing 460, includes nine interchanges, including the ones at the Suffolk and Petersburg ends of the road, and a 75-mph rating.

Alternative two is a four-lane road along the existing 460, with six bypasses around towns.

The third option is a four-lane, limited-access toll road north of the existing 460, and the fourth is “largely an alternative with no bypasses,” Deem said, involving improvements to the existing 460 for medians, shoulders and intersections.

Alternative five is an eight-lane road on a similar corridor to alternative two, with four lanes being tolled and four lanes being free-to-drive local roads.

VDOT has also been citing a no-build sixth alternative.

Deem described a high level of cooperation existing between VDOT and federal agencies, which has allowed “a very robust analysis” of environmental factors on a tight schedule, she said.

Following the meeting, Deem said none of the alternatives has yet emerged as a frontrunner. Selecting one over the others depends on what respective weight is given to the seven “need elements” being studied, she explained.

Those criteria are: addressing roadway deficiencies, improving safety, accommodating increased truck traffic, reducing travel times, enhancing emergency evacuation capability, improving strategic military connectivity and meeting local economic development plans.

“To say one stands out is really a reflection of what you value,” Deem said.

The environmental project manager described to board members how the rest of the process would unfold, starting with five town hall meetings. Those meetings kick off Monday at 6 p.m. at Sussex Central High School in Waverly. A session in Southampton County will be in Ivor at the Municipal Building on Tuesday, July 29 starting at 6 p.m. A final session is slated for King’s Fork High School in Suffolk at 6 p.m. July 31.

These meetings would prepare folks for the formal solicitation of citizen comments during public hearings, she said.

VDOT would like a draft study to be approved for a 45-day public comment period by late September, she added.

The draft document would be approved by the end of October or beginning of November, then “we will look to the federal agencies to consider the analysis we have conducted over these many months, consider the comments we have received on the draft document, and make a decision on the preferred alternative.”

If everything proceeds on VDOT’s preferred schedule, she said, the Corps of Engineers could be asked to weigh in on its environmentally preferred alternative by the end of the year.

As the process advances, VDOT’s public outreach may be amped up, depending on which design surfaces as the preferred, according to Deem.

“Certainly, if we were looking at an alternative along the existing road — either (alternative) two or four — the localities would be likely interested,” she said. “Things like (road) maintenance, traffic, phasing. I think we would definitely have more workshop-type meetings to get that feedback.”