Highway 460 project likely dead

Published 10:33 am Friday, January 20, 2017

by Tracy Agnew

Special to The Tidewater News

Opponents of the U.S. Route 460 project are celebrating the project’s apparent demise after it failed to score high enough in a state prioritization program to receive funding.

The project scored about a 0.5 in the state’s new Smart Scale program, which scores projects based on how they are expected to improve congestion mitigation, safety, economic development and other factors.

It scored so low that it fell behind 13 other projects in the Hampton Roads area that scored higher but also failed to receive funding, which went to even more highly scored projects.

State Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne appeared to put the final nail in the coffin with his comments during Tuesday’s Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting.

“As far as we are concerned, the issue of 460 is settled. We will not be moving that project forward,” he said.

The proposal for the $450-million project included a new, four-lane, divided highway between U.S. Route 58 in Suffolk to west of Windsor, including a bypass.

From there to one mile west of Zuni, the existing road would be reconstructed and upgraded to a four-lane divided highway, with a new bridge across the Blackwater River.

The proposal was a watered-down version of the plan from the new, tolled, 55-mile road pushed by Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally issued a permit for the new version of the project last fall.

Despite the road’s low overall score, Layne said, it did have a significant benefit score.

“I want to point that out,” he said. “There’s been a lot of criticism. It had merit; what it didn’t have merit on is compared to everything else.”

Despite Layne’s comments, the issue is not completely settled. The funding recommendations will go through further discussions and decisions.

However, Trip Pollard with the Southern Environmental Law Center hopes the proposed project is dead.

Last year, the agency offered a counter proposal that would have fewer impacts and cost less than VDOT’s plan to build a northern bypass around Windsor.

“I do hope this will put this proposal to rest,” Pollard said. “It confirms what we’ve long argued — that there are a lot better ways to spend $450 million. There are lots of better ways to improve the existing route without doing something that’s going to be so harmful to the environment and the community.”

Brenda Peters of Five Forks Road, who has been among Windsor residents vocally opposing the project, said on Thursday, “I was thrilled to hear that it’s basically dead.

“Hopefully it won’t come back to haunt us. We’re very, very thrilled.”

“People’s lives have been on hold for long,” Peters added, “and now we’re free to live our lives.”

Windsor Town Manager Michael Stallings said he learned of the news after receiving a call from Caleb Parks of Virginia Department of Transportation’s environment division.

“I think it helps us. There was a whole of uncertainty around the 460 project,” he said. “It allows us to move forward with planning for the future now that we know 460 won’t happen.”

In the past, Stallings said, he would receive calls from residents asking whether or not they should go forward with work on their property.

Already he’s heard from people saying they’ll start to look at doing work on their property.

Speaking of making plans, the town has scheduled a work session on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 4 p.m. for a six-month budget overview. Following a break at 5 p.m., the session continues by reviewing and prioritizing various projects.

Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson, who has been particular vocal in the town’s opposition to the project, is quite gratified by the news that bypass won’t happen.

“We are very pleased and now we can make plans for the future and complete our Comprehensive Plan and move forward in the future,” she said. “It was difficult before because it had such a big impact on the town.”

She learned of the project’s demise while listening to a broadcast of the Tuesday meeting when scores were presented. Had it been approved then, Richardson added, she would have gone up Wednesday to address the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

“They made a good decision,” she added. “It’s made me a very happy person.”

STEPHEN H. COWLES, a staff writer at The Tidewater News, contributed to this article.