VDOT hosts fourth town hall for input on 460 project

Published 10:17 am Friday, August 1, 2014

Alternate plans for the proposed new Route 460 project were presented to people at the town hall meeting in Ivor this past Tuesday. -- STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

Alternate plans for the proposed new Route 460 project were presented to people at the town hall meeting in Ivor this past Tuesday. — STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

IVOR—The town hall meeting in Ivor on Tuesday was an opportunity for residents in Southampton County and surrounding localities to comment on the proposed Route 460 project. And comment they did. For a full hour, people asked questions of or made criticisms to VDOT representatives about the need for a new road.

Foremost on many speakers’ minds was what will happen and when, especially as it concerns their lands, homes and livelihoods should the project be restarted.

“This is one of the dumbest things I ever heard of,” Fred Weaver of Zuni said of it. “All of us have been here before. Whose land is going to be taken?”

Ronnie West, vice chairman of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors, said, “People are in limbo. This has kept us all in limbo. I wish it all would end.”

Though audience members were asked to sign in, they weren’t required to identify themselves on entering or speaking.

For example, one man said the project, “turns my stomach.”

One woman noted how much of a challenge building a new and larger road would be in several areas.

She was applauded after saying, “It’s a swamp, people.”

The speaker challenged Project Manager Philip Rinehart whether the Virginia Department of Transportation has considered how the road could change topography of the land and how elevating land could affect the surrounding land.

“Yes, ma’am, we have considered that,” said Rinehart. He and the other agency officials with him kept their cool and politely replied to direct questions.

Rinehart said on more than one occasion that he understands and shares in the people’s frustration.

Like the affected residents, the project manager also has to await a decision that’s not expected until about year’s end.

Work came to a halt in March when Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane stated that spending had been frozen. The Army Corps of Engineers said it didn’t have all the needed permits, nor were issues about environmental impacts addressed. Lane also said that $300 million had already been spent.

Since then, VDOT came up with some alternatives to the proposed toll road that would stretch from Route 58 interchange in Suffolk to I-295 just east of Petersburg. One plan would be a four-lane tolled road north of the existing 460, while another would just rebuild it. There was an even talk of doing nothing at all.

“Does spending our money give so much enjoyment,” asked one speaker. “You’re disrupting people’s lives. We need an answer.”

Herb DeGroft of Smithfield asked if construction could be done incrementally, for example starting from Bower’s Hill. He also noted this method is done on other federal projects.

Ben Lane of Zuni said he’s a firefighter in the Holland area of Suffolk. His concern is that the project could create dead-end roads, which would limit access and slow down response times for firetrucks and ambulances.

Rinehart thanked people for making their opinions known, saying it’s important in helping to make a decision. Susan Clizbe, communication manager for Hampton Roads Megaprojects, said the meeting was a success “absolutely,” and that she “could not be more pleased” with the turnout and input from area residents.

Outside the meeting hall, Roy Rainey Jr. of Tucker Swamp said, “460 is an old road and needs to be put into modern times. I question the safety of it.”

However, he added, “It’s understandable that people who own property are frustrated. Hopefully, VDOT can come to terms with people and the Army Corps of Engineers to get a road built.”

Juliette Whyte of Windsor said she no longer believes that any road will be built. Her opinion changed after the stop order was made on any work being done at the time.

“It came to a screeching halt,” said Whyte. “I don’t think it will happen.”

Still, she added, “We never know.”