The next 460 debacle

Published 10:13 am Wednesday, February 25, 2015

by Carita Richardson

Citizens were outraged at VDOT, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), and our political leaders for spending money and moving forward on the original 460 project without having the necessary approvals and all the information needed to make good decisions. Did we learn nothing?

That process was halted to spend another $4.5 million on a Second Environmental Impact Study (SEIS), which clearly states that upgrading the existing 460 is the alternative with the fewest wetland impacts and the least expensive option (allowing more than the currently proposed 17 miles to be completed). So why is that study being ignored to recommend a different plan that only does 17 miles (less than a third of the 55-mile corridor) to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE)?

The ACOE will be told that upgrading 460 will not accomplish the purposes for this project as well as the plan with a northern bypass around Windsor; however, the northern bypass certainly does not support the purpose of local economic development regarding the almost 2,000 acres of the IOW Intermodal Park and the Norfolk Southern parcels, which are to the south of Windsor. There is no direct access to the Intermodal Park with the new plan, and it appears that trucks coming from the park will still have to travel on the old 460 to access the northern bypass.

The 17-mile hybrid alignment being proposed also does not meet another important purpose, a safe evacuation route for over 1.7 million residents in Hampton Roads. In fact, residents may get a false sense of security since it is being reported that 13,400 more vehicles can be evacuated per hour with this new road, but it is not being reported that at Zuni the eight lanes of traffic will have to merge into four narrow lanes on an unsafe, undivided highway, with shoulders not wide enough for emergency vehicles to gain access to automobiles that are stalled and keep bumper-to-bumper traffic moving. In reality, with a choke point at Zuni, over two-thirds of the trip to Petersburg, where the large amount of traffic can be safely disbursed, has the potential to become a massive parking lot which may prevent many people from getting to safety.

The VDOT website on the Route 29 project states that their design was a collaborative process “that included… local government, residents and business … along the corridor.” The Town of Windsor was never given the opportunity to express the ideas we have for a design of 460 that costs less and impacts fewer wetlands. Trip Pollard of the Southern Environmental Law Center told the CTB on Feb. 18, 2015, before their decision to send the hybrid plan to the ACOE, that there needs to be more analysis of the recommended alternative of upgrading the existing 460 before approving the hybrid plan. Windsor also pointed out the problems we saw which needed further study instead of rushing the process, but the hybrid plan was still approved by the CTB to be sent to the ACOE.

We also believe that the northern bypass plan will cost much more than the estimated $425 million with 5 long bridges to be built and the costly infrastructure changes to be made. It appears that the newly proposed route will be one of the costliest rural roads per acre ever built in Virginia, and it does not sufficiently address the critical purposes of safety for commuters from Zuni to Petersburg, safe evacuation out of the region for all residents in case of such things as a nuclear accident or a deadly hurricane, and support for local economic development. There are also environmental concerns. Why would we choose to put acres of asphalt on the north side of Windsor that is nearest the Chesapeake Bay?

The residents of this area and Hampton Roads deserve a safer 460, the wise use of our taxpayer dollars, and support for local economic development that brings good jobs to our area. Please express your ideas on what you want to the media and at the one public hearing that will be scheduled later on the new hybrid plan. A lot of voices need to be heard to make a difference!

CARITA RICHARDSON taught math and Spanish at Windsor High School for over 30 years. She is serving her second four-year term as the mayor of the town of Windsor.