460 contract’s end elicits comment

Published 9:17 am Friday, April 17, 2015

The announcement on Wednesday of the intended contract termination with US 460 Mobility Partners, which was to build a new Route 460, has not gone without comment by residents and area leaders.

“It tickled me to death,” said William A. Gwaltney Jr. of Deer Path Trail. He said that from the start he’s been one of the people opposing the project. In his view, the alternative plan that was unveiled in January isn’t any better.

“It’s not a good idea and it’s costing way too much money,” Gwaltney said.

Based on talks he said he’s had with legislators and lobbyists in Richmond, Gwaltney sounded optimistic that this break could be the beginning of the end of that road, which would bypass Windsor on the north.

“This project is still ongoing. But the funding has go to go back through the General Assembly,” he said. “This is a different project now. I talked to a few lobbyists that said this road will not be built without going back through the General Assembly.”

Del. Rick Morris (R-64), who in the past has publicly stated his opposition to the alternate road, is also encouraged by the agreement’s end.

“It is a great news, and I am glad that some voices of reason have prevailed and that this contract has been cancelled,” he said.

The legislator also acknowledged that the project still exists. But, he added, “With the contract cancelled, now the Virginia Department of Transportation would need to go back to the legislature and put it back into the 5-year plan for the project to prioritized and re-funded. As that project sits now, I am very confident that my friends in the legislature will see there are other projects with higher priority.

“Leadership is definitely more than going along to get along, and we need leaders to stand up for what the citizens need and desire, even it means being a lone voice in the wilderness.”

The Tidewater News was able to speak with Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne on Thursday about the announcement.

“All we did was terminate the contract with the previous contractor,” Layne said. “The project has been moving forward in the past year. That hasn’t changed.”

That also means there will still be time for input before decisions are made on the matter.

“We’re still going to have a lot of public comment. It’s not a fait accompli,” he said. “I know people are trying to tie this action into [the project] slowing down or stopping. That’s not accurate. It hasn’t changed the path the project is on.”

The secretary explained that with the contract’s cancellation, the project would undergo “a new procurement through the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the same as any other project.”

The General Assembly didn’t have anything to do with the decision, he added, because by state law it delegates all authority on transportation matters to the CTB.

“If we move forward under the new alignment, it will be subject to allocation of money by the Commonwealth Transportation Board under House Bill 2,” Layne said.

That law, which was passed in 2014, reads as follows in summary:

“Allocations within highway construction districts. Provides for the development of a prioritization process for projects funded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. Such prioritization shall weight factors such as congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, and environmental quality and be applied within each highway construction district.”

The secretary concluded, “I want to reemphasize that if people want to make comment, they will have the opportunity. There will be many, many more times to comment. No final decision has been made on construction.”

Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson is also pleased by the news of the contract ending.

“I want to commend the governor and Sec. Layne for trying to recoup some of the money from Mobility Partners,” she said. “Also, I think it will give us a little extra time as the process works itself out, for analysis and time to present our concerns to different people involved in the process.”

The decision is also “a good thing for the town of Windsor as well. I know they are continuing with their work on the northern bypass,” Richardson said. “The 60-day cooling-off period, they call it, is very important. Either they might come to some agreement with the money issue, but if they don’t then the project will have to go through the new process. If it does that, then the project may not get done.”

The mayor continued, “We feel the northern bypass around the town of Windsor — that part of the project is not good for evacuation, port traffic and where eight lanes go back into four. It’s still not addressing flood issue between Wakefield and Zuni. It’ll just back traffic up. The project as drawn right now does not meet those requirements.

“It’s one of the most expensive projects per mile and still don’t have a safe evacuation plan.”

For more information, visit the project website at www.route460project.org. The project team can be reached by toll-free information line at 855-460-4600 or info@Route460Project.org.