Ivor farmer L. A. Brantley Jr. stands where a new road proposed by VDOT as a tolled, limited-access alternative to the existing Route 460 would cut through the land he says has been in his family since about 1900.
Ivor farmer L. A. Brantley Jr. stands where a new road proposed by VDOT as a tolled, limited-access alternative to the existing Route 460 would cut through the land he says has been in his family since about 1900.

In the path of ‘progress’

Published 8:27pm Saturday, November 9, 2013

If state transportation officials overcome environmental concerns, a new 55-mile toll road from Suffolk to Petersburg will change L.A. Brantley Jr.’s life forever.

The 75-year-old farms land in Ivor he says has been in his family since the turn of the last century, starting with his grandfather.

“It will come right through the middle of my home farm, about half a mile from my house,” Brantley said recently, pointing out where he believes the Virginia Department of Transportation’s preferred route will send endless tractor-trailers careening through his peaceful fields.

Brantley says the road would take 50 acres of his land, including 17 acres of cultivation and the balance valuable timber, as well as one house.

He would be reimbursed for his land. And he could harvest the timber before the government got its hands on it. But he’d rather keep his 1,500 acres intact, he says.

“There’s a lot of people, they don’t care about the family farm,” he said. “I’m interested in preserving it just like it is.”

Brantley and others like him are closely monitoring a tense situation that has developed between VDOT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which, under the Clean Water Act, must issue a permit for the road project’s destruction of wetlands.

VDOT has come under fire for advancing its plans despite the corps’ insistence that it provide more convincing proof that the benefit justifies the environmental cost and that any path cut through woods and farmland causes the least amount of damage possible.

Late last month, the Southern Environmental Law Center jumped on new information released by VDOT showing the road’s design corridor would impact about 3-1/2 times the amount of wetlands — 474 acres according to the recent estimate — than previously thought.

According to Trip Pollard, a senior attorney with the center, the “shocking” new estimate, taken together with the project’s other perceived flaws, “now completely overwhelm its limited benefits.”

The corps and the Environmental Protection Agency were concerned about wetlands even before the new estimate, and losses would be more than several other transportation projects scrapped due to wetlands concerns, he noted.

VDOT and the corps disagree on why wetlands impacts have increased. Estimates, first calculated with aerial National Wetlands Inventory maps and “limited ground verification,” were revised up because the corps changed what it considers a wetland as well the methodology for calculating impacts, VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said.

Also, she added, US Mobility Partners conducted further field analysis after being selected as the project’s private partner in October 2012. “The footprint of the project hasn’t changed,” she said.

Alice Allen-Grimes, the corps’ Route 460 project manager, said an update to the federal agency’s manual for identifying wetlands results in a “very small percentage of change.”

“The initial wetlands impacts were based on the National Wetlands Inventory Maps, which are very broad and often not on target,” she said. “We are still not sure what transpired between 2005” — when, she says, the corps told VDOT it needed to supplement maps with ground studies — “and 2012.”

A portion of the $192 million of taxpayers’ money spent on the project so far went to gathering information for the permit application that the private partner lodged with the corps Sept. 30, Rollison said.

At the very least, to assess whether the new road meets the public interest test, the corps now requires a supplement to the environmental impact statement, to document the increase in wetlands impacts, the effects of tolling and making it an interstate-style limited-access road — both additions to the original, publicly exhibited plans — and why the earlier alternative of improving the existing road doesn’t meet the project’s purpose and need, Allen-Grimes said.

VDOT has changed its original proposal for the existing 460 alternative, which the corps stressed could be an environmentally friendlier option, from a widening to five lanes to expanding the road to eight lanes.

With combining tolling and free access — a key part of the project — and adding bypasses around communities like Brantley’s Ivor, it now reports that remodeling the existing road would destroy more wetlands and cost twice as much — $2.8 billion — than building a new road alongside it.

“They have indicated that the alternative in the original EIS of improving the existing road doesn’t meet the purpose and need, (but) we need to document why it doesn’t and what has changed,” Allen-Grimes said.

R.M. Felts Jr., another Ivor local whose farmland would be cut in half, says he sees the need for the new road.

“I’ve lived here all my life and been driving the road for 50-plus years, and it’s a very dangerous road,” Felts said.

“We need the road, but I hate to see it come through my property; it’s going to be a major impact on the life we have known.”

No right-of-way acquisitions have yet been authorized, according to Rollison. VDOT says remodeling and tolling the existing road would potentially mean up to 364 residential and 20 business relocations, nearly quadruple that of its preferred new road.

Virginia’s outgoing governor, Bob McDonnell, has pushed the project, saying it will maximize benefit to the commonwealth from the Port of Virginia, provide an evacuation route for Hampton Roads, be a strategic asset for the military, and take trucks off the existing 460, improving safety.

Traveling the entire road when it opens in 2018 will cost cars $3.69 and trucks $11.72, VDOT says. The existing 460 would provide a free alternative.

“The wetlands impacts will continue to change and will get significantly lower as the

design progresses,” Rollison said.

Allen-Grimes is not so bullish. “The more impact, the more benefit should be apparent,” she said. “We have a ways to go in looking at the benefit of this project.”

Standing in his field skirted by the woods he played in as a boy, Brantley hopes some kind of miracle stops the road from bisecting his land.

“I haven’t slept for the last two years worrying about this damn mess,” he said. “It just changes my way of life. I wouldn’t be surprised if I see my daddy come up here out of the cemetery when they start on this road.”

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  • chief601

    My comments were to SouthernLady

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  • SouthernLady

    I would think an even cheaper alternative to either widening the existing Rt. 460 or building an entire new Toll Rd. 460 would be to widen I-64 between Richmond and Newport News. After all these years I-64 between Richmond and the interchange at Patrick Henry Airport has been never been widened from 4 lanes and the traffic is always bumper to bumper and slow moving. Taking I-64 to any of the bridge tunnels would be a better alternative to truck traffic since the bridge tunnels provide better and quicker access to the ports plus I-64 is an already existing interstate and not a rural US highway. Not only that, but if the Toll Road is built, you can pretty much bet that the US 58 by-pass around Suffolk will end up having to be widened to accommodate even more truck traffic than it already carries.

    Rural Virginia farmers and residents of all the rural communities between Petersburg and Suffolk deserve much better treatment than what they have been receiving from the State of Virginia, State Leaders, VDOT and others and those groups should be ashamed of themselves for treating life long farmers and rural residents the way they’ve been and will be treated not to mention destroying land and lives like the proposed changes would do. Suffolk’s leaders also believe the increased traffic will bring more business to Suffolk. Hey, I’ve got news for them that it will not except what they are already getting from truck traffic heading south into North Carolina. When truckers from the proposed Toll Road would arrive at the Suffolk By-pass, they would only be 30 minutes from the ports and after being on the road for hours, are anxious to get in line at the ports, unload, reload and get on the road again. Stopping in Suffolk when they are only 30 minutes from their destinations would only cost the drivers more money and time and time is also money to those drivers. I-64 would be a better and cheaper way to go with more choices for crossing the James River at Hampton Roads to get to those ports. Don’t destroy the lives of all those farmers and residents between Petersburg and Suffolk.

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    • thekytikat

      Just wait. 64 will get worse in February as the tolls are put in place on the downtown & midtown tunnels.

      I find it HILARIOUS that anyone in government thinks the truckers will gladly pay their hard-earned $$ to travel this Toll version of 460.

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      • SANSR

        I am thinking that on balance, the cost of fuel at constant speed on an Interstate compliant roadway will equal out when compared with the commesurate loss while slowing down, idling at signal lights, lagging behind slower traffic, etc to the extent that the cost of the tolls will be offset; maybe even to the point that our long haul over the road professionals will even make a profit.

        Disclaimer: I am neither a long haul drive, nor an expert on fuel consumption variables. If there are any professional drivers out there that can chime in on the discussion, I am always open to learning new information.

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      • whitemarshtaxpayer

        Trucks will use the new road .. Not because they want it or think it is needed .. It will be because the govt will make it difficult to travel the old 460 .. You can count on lower speed limits and more inspections should you decide not to pay Gov. Mcdonalds tolls.. Not a huge deal because the transportation industry is just going to pass the toll on down to you in higher freight charges . Again the taxpayer loses !

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    • chief601

      Good points and well said.

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    • 7l

      I would suggest you do research into the center point development. It’s purpose is to move the freight from the port to an intermodal center(freight yard)to be built behind Lakeland High. Trucks will not be using the port itself but dropping contaniners at the freight yard and picking up containers coming from the port on trains. That is the reason there is a new rail line running down the center of 664. I have been to a center point intermodal operation in Illinois. The purpose of the trip was to investigate the amount of truck traffic in and out. While I realize this is the center of the country and there is a much greater use of trucks used to deliver freight if 1/3 of the truck traffic that I witnessed becomes the norm in Suffolk I seriously doubt the existing 58/460 corridors will be able to handle this. In five minutes while sitting at the entrance on a Monday afternoon we counted 40 tractor trailers entering and exiting the development. What we saw inside of the development was even more disturbing. A line of trucks waitng to leave of which the end could not be seen. I really think the citizens of Suffolk look into what an Intermodal Transportation Center will bring to the city before deciding upon the need for new roads in and out of the city.

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