IW board votes to support 460 alternative

Published 12:08 pm Friday, February 13, 2015

The Isle of Wight County supervisors voted unanimously — but reluctantly — in favor of a resolution to support the Recommended Preferred Alternative for Route 460. The vote and preceding discussion took place during a special called meeting on Wednesday afternoon in chambers.

The board’s decision comes almost a month after a new path was unveiled by the Virginia Department of Transportation. That road, which would only stretch approximately 17 miles from Suffolk to Zuni, would travel north of Windsor. Last year’s proposal was a tolled highway that went to Petersburg, and set south of the existing Route 460.

Supervisor Delores “Dee Dee” Darden said the announcement “shocked everyone,” especially after county and town officials such as herself, Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson and Town Manager Mike Stallings had been in Richmond only the previous week. They had spoken to the Corps about their concerns of having a new southern route, which would specifically accommodate the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park. The hope is for an alternative road that would not only service existing industries, but attract future companies to the site.

Darden, who represents the Windsor district, described the County’s next meeting with VDOT as “very emotional,” especially with being told in “no uncertain terms” that there are no other options.

Even an offer to mitigate wetlands was rejected because, they were told, that wasn’t an issue. But in 2014, this environmental feature farther along Route 460 was a major factor in Secretary of Transportation Aubrey’ Layne’s decision to halt any work on the project.

A meeting with him on Feb. 5 gave only some hope that connections to the town would be made part of the final design.

“The best way is to get along,” Darden said. “It’s not what we want. I agree with everything you said.”

She was referring to residents’ comments made before board discussion.

The first to speak was Billy Gwaltney of Deer Path Trail, who called the whole issue, “the most mismanaged road project in the history of Virginia. It’s personal for me because it comes 1.2 miles on my farm. Perry Minnow Farms will also be affected.

“VDOT told me there will be challenges and will work with me. What is the County going to do to help me? If we can hold out, we can do better. It’s life-changing for us and it’s going to kill your intermodal park.”

Verna Stephenson of Windsor Boulevard said she’s been living in the area for 66 years and has “loved living in this county.”

She suggested that a small adjustment could save businesses such as Perry’s farm or Windsor Wood Working, which would also be affected.

Robert Crocker is concerned because the new alternative would be less than 200 yards from the house where he and his wife have lived for decades.

“It’s a little too close for comfort,” he added. “I’m appalled.”

Frank Grubbs, who said he’s an engineer, called the project “the absolutely worst managed contract. It does nothing. I call it a road to nowhere. It’s illogical to me.”

William Johnson of Five Forks Road suggested the board do what it’s got to do that evening, but “come up with real hard reasons how and why Isle of Wight is being affected. Come up with some real justifications.”

Following public comment, Anne Seward, the County administrator, also said, “It’s this route or nothing. That was clearly made…We believe [doing] nothing is the worst option. Basically, we’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons.”

Supervisor Al Casteen of the Smithfield District made his feelings evident in raising his voice, saying he’s “totally frustrated” and that the matter “aggravates the bejesus” out of him.

“They’re hurting our people,” he added. “No good deed goes unpunished. But, I’m going to do my darnedest to make nice.”

Speaking to the residents, chairman Rex Alphin said, “Our hearts go out to you. We’re trying to make the best of the situation.”

Seward did add, however, that there’s more opportunities for public input, including sending concerns to the Commonwealth Transportation Board at www.ctb.org.