‘We need certainty’

Published 10:23 am Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Special to The Tidewater News

C.W. Griffin, a former Wakefield mayor, took his chance to grill VDOT officials over the Route 460 project and ran with it Monday night.

Speaking during the first of five town hall meetings to update folks on five design alternatives, Griffin said technicians on the 55-mile road project between Suffolk and Petersburg have been visiting his property for two years.

They’ve left a pile of dirt and a cut-up road, according to Griffin.

“Is there anybody in Richmond who can make a decision, or are we going to continue to play these games?” he asked. “The only thing I see come out of Richmond is spending taxpayers’ dollars, and we still don’t have a road.”

The cost so far and lack of direction about what kind of road will be built, if any at all, were high on the list of concerns at Sussex Central High School. Exactly who makes the final decision was another.

“The not knowing is killing us” could summarize the concerns of those in the path of at least one of the five alternatives. They want certainty so they can improve their properties, or to know whether they’ll need to leave.

“I’m curious — who makes the decision?” asked one man.

VDOT’s Route 460 project manager, Philip Rinehart, struggled a little with the answer.

The decision would be made at the “policy level,” he said, to which the inquisitor replied, “So this goes up to the governor?”

Rinehart seemed to confirm Gov. Terry McAuliffe would make the ultimate decision, adding that the Commonwealth Transportation Board would have input as well.

He had also responded to Griffin’s concerns, telling him the approved “dirt pile” was heaped up by the contractor to measure sediment, and would be removed, and that work is left to do on the damaged road.

Another point of contention was right-of-way acquisitions. Mary Lee Collier of Disputanta said a VDOT-approved appointment to appraise her property was canceled at 9 p.m. the night before.

“Our neighbor actually had their appraisal, and felt very violated,” Collier said.

Jean Rella, VDOT’s right-of-way coordinator for Hampton Roads “megaprojects” gave an update on the process, saying that a team has been assembled for acquisitions to begin once an alternative design is selected and permitted.

She assured Collier that the appraisers were working under the proper authority. “The fact that they were told to cease work was really unfortunate,” she said.

The appraisal was canceled when VDOT froze contract spending on the project, formally announced by Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne in March, who cited $300 million already spent on the road.

Raymond Warren, vice chairman of its Board of Supervisors, said the delayed project was having a significant financial toll on Sussex County.

“It’s affecting our budget, everything,” Warren said. “It just goes on and on and on, and these people don’t know what to do. It’s unbelievable that this could happen in this country.”

Griffin said folks have sold their homes thinking the road was coming through.

“Get us the accurate information and stop playing games,” he said.

Throughout the meeting, VDOT’s representatives sympathized with the concerns, saying they are working to bring certainty as soon as possible.

Public hearings are expected in the fall, before a final supplemental environmental impact statement is approved.

VDOT expects the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will announce their preferred alternative by early 2015.