State, federal agencies sign draft 460 study

Published 9:43 am Wednesday, September 24, 2014

By Matthew Ward//Suffolk News Herald
Special to The Tidewater News

An opponent to a planned new road from Suffolk to Petersburg says yet another increase in projected wetlands impacts is a “dramatic new evidence” that should compel officials to “pull the plug on the new Route 460 boondoggle.”

On Thursday, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed a draft social, economic and environmental study of five design alternatives.

Alternative 1 — four new, tolled lanes south of the existing road and separated by a median — was previously identified as the design that would be built.

However, citing Corps concerns about an increase in wetlands impacts, officials stopped work $300 million into the $1.4 billion project.

That first jump in wetlands impacts, which came after more intensive studies, showed an increase of about 3-1/2 times the original amount, to 474 acres. Now, the second increase swells the potential wetlands affected to 613 acres.

“It’s very interesting how much wetlands impacts have jumped yet again since the last increase,” said Trip Pollard, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The new number seems to include bridging this time, he said, implying that without bridging the new increase would have been even greater.

“I don’t think, even before this draft, that the new highway was permit-able,” Pollard said. “I think now there is no question that the highway, under any stretch of the imagination, couldn’t qualify as the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.”

At $1.8 billion, the new draft study puts cost of the design that was previously supported almost 30 percent higher than had been previously expected.

Another alternative plan would run the new highway north of the existing road at a slightly higher cost — $1.88 billion. A third option would be to add four high-speed, tolled lanes to the existing road and building bypasses around the towns between its termini in Suffolk and Petersburg, at a projected cost of $1.34 billion.

The most expensive option, at $2.48 billion, would be a new four-lane road with bypasses alongside the existing one road. The cheapest option — $974 million — would be to improve the existing road.

Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson said the town would prefer a bypass to the south, cutting between Windsor and Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park.

Richardson said the town expects the state and federal agencies will approve some combination of the five alternatives. “That’s why we did not give a preference to one road,” she said.

Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson did not return a call Monday for comment about the VDOT’s new study.

During the Monday meeting of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors, VDOT Project Manager Phil Rinehart informed the members of the new study. He also called on people to attend the public hearings.

Although the board had apparently not yet gotten to review it, the members did discuss what impact an alternate route could have on the county.

Following an earlier proposal from Supervisor Glenn Updike of the Newsoms District, Supervisor Barry Porter of the Franklin district offered the following motion for a resolution:

“We take a position that whatever alternative they [VDOT] choose it must minimize the impact on farmland and local businesses within Southampton County.”

Dr. Alan Edwards of the Jerusalem District seconded the motion, and the board carried it unanimously.

“I don’t feel comfortable giving people an ultimatum,” Porter said later. “It would be premature to take a hard-and-fast decision now.”

Supervisor Ronnie West of the Berlin-Ivor District said on Tuesday, “I’m glad we took our stand last night.”

He noted that Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane reportedly does not favor the original plan, but instead thinks that rebuilding the existing 460 more feasible.

A new Route 460 has been considered for decades. Former Gov. Bob McDonnell put the project in the fast lane and continued pushing ahead despite significant concerns, most notably environmental ones, and the lack of a crucial U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit.

The new draft study can be viewed online at Public hearings are now set for Oct. 27 at Windsor High School, Oct. 29 at The Wakefield Foundation, Wakefield, and Oct. 30 at J.E.J. Moore Middle School in Disputanta. All sessions are from 5 to 8 p.m.

Public comments can be mailed to Angel Deem, Environmental Division, 1401 E. Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219, or emailed to

The announcement of preferred alternative is expected by early 2015.

Staff Writer Stephen H. Cowles of The Tidewater News contributed to this story.