Time for movement on Route 460

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, April 15, 2010

Following up on one of the themes of his campaign, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced this week that he will press the Virginia Department of Transportation to jumpstart its stalled plan for a replacement of Route 460 between Suffolk and Petersburg.

Area residents have long been used to the highway’s heavy traffic, stoplights and speed limits that vary between 55 and 35 miles per hour as it carries motorists through the rural countryside and small towns of Southside Virginia. But issues of safety and economics caused the commonwealth to begin a process several years ago that was designed eventually to choose a private firm to build a new limited-access alignment that would connect Hampton Roads and central Virginia.

With the growing importance of Hampton Roads’ ports, there is a need for a route to I-95 and I-85 that is quicker and more appropriate for trucks laden with goods bound for other parts of the country. A state-of-the-art highway with wider lanes, shoulders and limited access would ensure quick and easy access to the shipping terminals in Portsmouth and Norfolk, thereby ensuring those facilities’ viability as choices for companies moving goods into and out of the United States.

Perhaps even more important is Route 460’s role as one of the two primary evacuation routes for the 1.6 million or so people who live in Hampton Roads. Hurricane Katrina gave the world a terrible taste of what can happen when a major metropolitan area needs to be evacuated in a short time on inadequate highways. With major defense facilities, proximity to Washington, D.C., and a coastal location that is susceptible to hurricanes, Hampton Roads needs the best evacuation routes that can be designed. The current Route 460, which is also prone to flooding that leaves it impassable, is inadequate to the task.

There are obvious questions about how to fund such a mammoth project, along with concerns about the tolls that would be necessary to satisfy the private firms considering a partnership with the state. And given Virginia’s current dire economic straits — not to mention the historic aversion the commonwealth’s legislators have had to coming up with real transportation solutions — there’s reason to wonder just how any plan could come together.

Still, the fact that the governor continues to press for a solution in the face of all the potential roadblocks speaks well of his commitment to looking after the needs of the region. It’s past time for some progress on Route 460, and it’s time for area legislators to join the governor in his effort to get VDOT on the move.