The new 460 plan — unbelievable

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, January 28, 2015

by David Joyner

It is hard to imagine that after more than a decade of planning to upgrade U.S. Route 460 between Petersburg and Suffolk, with untold hours and millions of dollars expended to date, the end result is the recently presented preferred alternative.

Route 460 between Petersburg and Suffolk is a vital transportation corridor and economic link for Southeast Virginia. It is also unsafe in its current condition.

With virtually no shoulders and opposing high-speed traffic separated only by double yellow lines, there simply is little margin for error. This is evident in the tragic accidents that occur on the roadway with heartbreaking frequency. A significant reason people are dying is the outdated design of the roadway.

With increasing heavy truck traffic projected in the future, upgrading the roadway is at a critical stage. A modern Route 460 would also have a ripple effect on the region, enhancing mobility and encouraging economic development.

In the wake of serious errors, the current plan represents a poorly devised effort to “do something” that makes no sense. I am writing this letter to bring some questions to light that I have not seen addressed to date:

How can the recently presented preferred alternative, which is 17 miles in length, or approximately 30 percent of the original proposed project, meet the purpose of need of the original project? The roadway safety, hurricane evacuation, military and mobility issues exist from Petersburg to Suffolk. How can Zuni be a logical terminus for this project?

How can we make apples-to-apples comparison of impacts (environmental, social, etc.) between the original 55-mile long corridor and a 17-mile long fragment of the original plan?

On a per-mile basis, the new preferred alternative impacts 3.06 acres per mile (52 acres over 17 miles), compared to 1.65 acres per mile (91 acres over 55 miles) for Alternative 4 (primarily widening on existing alignment) identified in the 2014 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

That’s almost double the wetland impacts per mile for the new preferred alternative. How can the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now say this is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative, considering it has greater wetland impact proportionally to Alternative 4?

Secretary [Aubrey] Layne stated after the SEIS that it appeared the improvements would primarily be focused on the existing roadway — a logical statement, considering the SEIS stated that Alternative 4 had the least wetlands impacts and some version of Alternative 4 (perhaps a hybrid with some town bypasses) would have a higher probability of being permitted for wetlands impacts. So why is the bulk of the new preferred alternative on new alignment?

If funding is now constrained on the project, why doesn’t the commonwealth take a phased approach and build operationally independent segments, much like the I-64 widening project between Newport News and Richmond?

Although I am disappointed in the evolution of this project and where we are today, I remain hopeful there is time to make the best of a bad situation. I also hope the Route 460 improvement project can be used as a case study to reform public policies and inform the public on issues such as the need for improved transparency, accountability, interagency coordination and cooperation.

The project also highlights the inherent problems with poorly structured public-private partnerships, where the public bears virtually all the risk. I believe this raises serious concerns about current efforts to make our public infrastructure for-profit instead of for the public good.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the project illustrates what happens when bully-oriented political tactics are employed without responsible people performing their duty to check and balance the powers we the people gave them.

David Joyner is a resident of Suffolk. Email him at