Transportation secretary speaks on 460 alternative

Published 10:23 am Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Tidewater News had questions about the proposed alternative to Route 460, which was revealed in mid-January. Much to the consternation of many people in Isle of Wight County, the new proposal is to build a bypass that would go north of the town of Windsor. The newspaper sought answers from top officials connected to the project. Calls and emails to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office were never acknowledged, although he has since voiced his support.

Calls were also made to Commissioner Charles A. Kirkpatrick of the Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne Jr. It was Layne who spoke earlier in March with this reporter and Publisher Tony Clark in a phone interview.

Noting that Gov. McAuliffe had “put the brakes” on the previous 55-mile toll road plan, Layne replied that came on his recommendation.

“I was a full supporter of the [original] project,” he said. But Layne added that it became clear later that the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t feel the same owing to environmental issues. Several hundred acres of wetlands would have been damaged or destroyed because of the new road.

“There was no choice but to stop the contract,” he said. “The recommendation I gave is that there’s no need to continue. The Army Corps of Engineers said it would never have been built.”

Among the factors for building a new road in the first place is that it would facilitate evacuation in the event of hurricanes or other disasters.

“The real issue is getting out of Hampton Roads…getting them [people] out of harm’s way — the brunt of the hurricane,” he said.

Another reason for the alternative route is to handle increased cargo traffic with the expansion of the Port of Hampton Roads. Most importantly, though, is a concern for the safety of trucks mixing with school buses.

Asked why not simply repair the existing Route 460, Layne said, “To upgrade would cost so much more.”

On the issue of why it seems that wetlands are more valuable than farmland, he said, “I can’t answer that question.”

But the new plan, Layne noted, would result in only “50 acres, maybe even less than 40 acres” of wetland destruction.

In addition to the environment, Windsor residents and officials have been concerned about interchanges allowing for egress and ingress of vehicles.

“No decisions have been made where the interchanges are going,” he said. “Yes, there’ll be limited access, but there won’t be a toll road as was previously planned.”

Layne added that there are still several more months of public hearings on the road.

“The good news is there’ll be more flexibility to work with landowners.”

But the decision on whether or not to build will come not solely from VDOT or ACOE.

“The Commonwealth Transportation Board is the ultimate arbitrator,” he said.

Should the CTB decide the alternative route be dropped as well, that would be it for any work on 460.

“It’ll be all or nothing,” said Layne. But so far, he added, “It appears that we have a permittable road.”

He described the project as having state-wide significance.

“There’s a substantial lobby pushing for the road to be built,” Layne said. “Only Windsor has spoken out.”

And the secretary recognized that opposition.

“This is a bad situation. I get it. I’ve met with the farmers and the Windsor mayor. Somebody’s always impacted,” he said, but added, “There are no guarantees the road will be built.”