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Action on 460?

With word circulating that Gov. Bob McDonnell plans to kick start the Route 460 project after years of it being nearly stalled, Suffolk’s General Assembly representatives are surprised but pleased.

“I’m pleased to see that the governor wants to revisit that and get it moving again,” Delegate Chris Jones (R-76) said Thursday. “It would be a great time to do some construction.”

For years, the current Route 460 has been in line for a revamping. Plans include a new, 55-mile, four-lane, limited-access divided highway that would be aligned south of the existing one for most of its length from Petersburg to Suffolk. The current Route 460 — though it is a hurricane evacuation route for thousands of Hampton Roads residents — is prone to flooding during major storms and suffers from high traffic levels.

However, funding difficulties and other roadways in need of attention have postponed action on the project.

The road would be constructed and operated by the winning bidder among three companies — Cintra USA Corp., Itinere SPE and Virginia Corridor Partners. The procurement process for the project has been on hold for some time. It was to be re-evaluated this month.

The private corporations, however, would charge tolls for the new road, and Senator Fred Quayle (R-13) worries they would be untenable for area residents and visitors.

“Without state money, the tolls are going to be so high that nobody’s going to use the road,” Quayle said. “I’m not exactly sure what he [McDonnell] has in mind. I guess you could give them a longer lease or you could increase the tolls, but still you’re looking at higher tolls that are going to deter people from using it.”

Route 460 is one of the main highways out of Hampton Roads and is an official hurricane evacuation route for many of the area’s residents. The road flooded during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and remained waterlogged for weeks afterward, causing miles-long detours for residents — and that wasn’t the first time or the last time it has flooded.

“It will provide another route for evacuation during a hurricane, and at the same time it’s another route in and out of Hampton Roads, in a much easier manner,” Jones said of the new alignment. “Whether it’s tourist season or whether it’s moving goods and services … the Peninsula right now is the route that most people take when they leave the beach and head north.”

McDonnell said during his campaign he wanted to get the Route 460 project moving.

“Route 460 is the most important project to link Richmond with Suffolk and Hampton Roads,” he said during a campaign stop in Suffolk in August. He called it “unacceptable” that progress on the project has been stalled.

“(Route) 460 has got to be built,” he said.