Route 460 can wait

Published 9:45 am Friday, August 5, 2016

As part of a public comment period on a proposal for improvements to a small portion of U.S. Route 460, the Southern Environmental Law Center has submitted a plan to state officials that would reduce the ecological impact of the new road.

Under the SELC’s alternative proposal, Route 460 would be widened through Windsor, where a two-way left-turn lane would accommodate traffic that currently ties up the left travel lanes in each direction. Other improvements would make the road less prone to flooding and raise it to modern standards.

Even more important for the environmental group is the fact that its plan would result in the displacement of far fewer acres of wetlands than the $450 million, four-lane divided highway from Suffolk to Windsor proposed by the state.

The state’s plan also calls for a bypass around Windsor, ending in Zuni. That bypass could severely harm Windsor businesses, and officials from the town and Isle of Wight County have thus rightly expressed dismay over Virginia transportation officials’ insistence on pursuing it.

What’s surprising is that Route 460 improvements are still under consideration at all in the short term, especially in light of the growing need for a solution to traffic problems on U.S. Route 58 and the unlikely prospect of both projects getting funds under the commonwealth’s new transportation funding mechanism.

It would be hard to argue that Route 460 has a greater current traffic problem than Route 58, and the growth of the warehousing and shipping industry along the latter corridor — which will only continue to accelerate as new logistics companies discover the benefits of Western Tidewater — is sure to exacerbate the problem.

Earlier this summer, state officials announced the project to add two lanes to U.S. Route 58 in Suffolk, starting at the west end of the bypass and lasting past Manning Bridge Road, would be fully funded with an influx of about $39 million through the state’s new transportation funding mechanism.

However, this solution pales in comparison to the current and future demands being placed upon that stretch of road. Every day, trucks and passenger vehicles jockey for space along that road, and the extra truck traffic expected to come on the heels of big new projects recently announced for Western Tidewater will make the drive more dangerous — and much slower — than ever before.

The SELC has offered an interesting alternative to the Route 460 plan that state officials have been trying to force on the community for many months. But neither the state’s nor SELC’s plan would solve the Route 460 problem. Both would leave Route 460 as an undivided highway for much of its route to Petersburg.

The better solution would be to use the money Virginia anticipates using for Route 460 improvements to widen Route 58 through Western Tidewater so that it could become the preferred route for truck traffic.

Route 460 can wait. But if Route 58 isn’t improved soon, the economic and safety repercussions could be dire.