The low road to the highway

Published 9:13 pm Tuesday, September 14, 2010

As officials from the Commonwealth Transportation Board consider the three proposals that were submitted by companies interested in an arrangement for replacement of Route 460 between Suffolk and Petersburg, it would be appropriate for them to think way back into the process to the public hearings that were held and the concerns that were raised by the folks who would wind up living on either side of the new road.

The proposal process has moved in fits and starts since transportation officials first identified replacement of the highway as a priority that needed to be addressed, but one that the state could not afford to fund. Seeing the unlikelihood of getting state legislators to pay for the project, the Transportation Board decided to seek a public/private partnership to get the work done. But then the economy fell apart, public transportation money — which was already caught in a politically charged web — suddenly became almost non-existent, and the procurement stalled altogether.

During the many months that the process has dragged on, the only thing that has changed significantly is that the economy of both Virginia and Western Tidewater have come upon hard times. People who were worried about the new highway’s effect on the economy of the communities it would bisect have no less reason for concern today than they did two years ago.

Email newsletter signup

In fact, the newest procurement released by the Transportation Board would allow the companies building the road to omit any intermediate exits along its length for the time being. Such a design decision would make the road cheaper to build, but it would guarantee that people traveling Route 460 would skip right on by Windsor and Ivor and Wakefield and Waverly and all of the smaller towns between Suffolk and Petersburg. That’s no way to help guarantee economic recovery to the hard-hit communities of Western Tidewater.

The Greater Hampton Roads area needs a new Route 460 as a lifeline in the case of emergency evacuations and as an arterial connection between Tidewater’s ports and the interstate highways traveling north, south and west from here. But the state should not be in a hurry to sacrifice the rural residents of Tidewater in the process of providing for its urban population. And any proposal for the replacement road that calls for such a sacrifice should get the lowest consideration by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.