McAuliffe voices faith in 460

Published 9:24 am Friday, March 27, 2015

By Matthew Ward
Suffolk News Herald

In Norfolk on Tuesday to announce a wind energy project, Gov. Terry McAuliffe expressed faith the latest U.S. Route 460 plan would meet the project’s stated purpose and need.

Speaking after remarks to a Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce audience, McAuliffe said the major transportation project should be an asset for the region in terms of improving evacuation capability and helping trucks move goods to and from port facilities.

Shortly after taking office, McAuliffe froze contract spending on a 55-mile, limited access, four-lane toll road between Suffolk and Petersburg and alongside the existing 460 — an earlier plan for the road — citing concerns over wetlands impacts.

Before a necessary federal environmental permit had been secured, the state’s private project partner had billed in the vicinity of $300 million, without any actual construction.

A revamped plan announced by the McAuliffe administration involves a new, four-lane road between Suffolk and just west of Windsor — about 12 miles in distance — and then improving the existing road another five miles to just west of Zuni, including a new bridge across the flood-prone Blackwater River.

The announcement left many wondering how such a scaled-back project could achieve what transportation officials originally set out to achieve.

McAuliffe said his transportation secretary, Aubrey Layne, has “assured me that the new proposed road will meet both of those criteria” — namely, improving evacuation capability and spreading the benefit of the port inland.

Reflecting on his administration’s decision to jettison the project’s previous iteration, McAuliffe said, “It became clear to me the permit was never going to be approved.”

While the governor obliged the press by taking questions on 460 and other matters, he was in town to announce Virginia has a federal lease for Dominion Virginia Power to develop two pilot wind turbines off the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

The nation’s first such lease project in U.S. waters will involve wind turbines 24 nautical miles out to sea, he said.

Operational by 2017, they would generate enough energy to power 3,000 homes at peak demand. “We have to combat the threat of climate change through new energy sources that don’t create any greenhouse gases,” McAuliffe said.

With its deepwater port facilities, according to the governor, Virginia should become a manufacturing center for turbines as wind energy projects ramp up elsewhere.

“It’s now up to the business community to actually take it to the next level,” he said.

McAuliffe also addressed the issue of congestion at the Port of Virginia, which he blamed on increased freight volumes due to striking West Coast dockworkers, and winter storm-related productivity losses.

“I want you all to know we are going to do everything we possibly can,” he said.

“We have got to think big; we have got to think creative. What can we do to help open up that port?”