Council expresses concern over 460

Published 7:54 pm Saturday, December 18, 2010

460: A container truck lumbers along U.S. Route 460 in Suffolk this summer. Proposed tolls a new route between Suffolk and Petersburg are too high, some City Council members think.

City Council members expressed concern last week over the impact to the local economy that could result from tolls on a proposed new Route 460.

In a work session, the city’s governing body received an overview of three private proposals to construct a new, limited-access highway between Petersburg and Suffolk.

Multimodal Solutions, Cintra Infraestructuras and 460 Partners each have proposed to construct and operate a toll road parallel to the current alignment of U.S. Route 460. The three companies each hope to charge tolls in various amounts for a varying numbers of years.

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“I think there’s always the question of tolls,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said in last week’s work session. “What does it do to us if these trucks don’t stop in Suffolk anymore?”

Updating Route 460 is a regional transportation priority because it is a main hurricane evacuation route but is prone to flooding. Some stretches of the road are also prone to accidents.

“The objective of this project is to improve travel safety on the 460 corridor,” Public Works director Eric Nielsen said. “The new road would be elevated. The drainage would be set up to handle situations such as that [flooding].”

Proposed tolls could range between $5.50 and $11 for cars to travel the 55-mile highway. For four-axle trucks, the toll could be as high as $42.

However, the road’s speed limit could be as high as 75 according to some of the proposals, Nielsen said.

“I think the objective is if they’re going to charge you a toll, they figure they would entice you by allowing you to go faster.”

The proposals estimate a project cost between $1.44 billion and $1.85 billion. The companies anticipate collecting tolls for between 75 and 99 years.

Some of the proposals also suggest public subsidies.

“Some of them have proposed they can make it work better and the tolls would be lower if the state or federal government” would give them money, Nielsen said.

Mayor Johnson wasn’t the only one concerned about the tolls.

“How do we gauge what the economic impact would be?” Councilman Charles Parr asked.

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said the city could undertake a study to calculate the business activity in the city currently tied to Route 460.

Rather than tolls, some council members suggested other forms of revenue. Parr said he’d rather see a 2-cent sales tax hike. Councilman Joe Barlow, in his last City Council meeting, said a gas tax increase was “the obvious place” to get the money.

“We just need more facts,” Johnson said at the conclusion of council’s discussion on the matter.

Area residents can learn more about the proposals during a meeting at Windsor High School at 5 p.m. Jan. 6.

The project’s 11-member independent review panel will evaluate three company’s proposals to build the new limited-access highway between Petersburg and Suffolk.

At the meeting, each company will present their proposals, and the project’s 11-member independent review panel will conduct a question-and-answer session.

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