Route 460 could be a toll road too far

Published 9:57 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I’ve had the pleasure, excitement and misfortune of driving up and down the major interstates from Maryland to Maine a few times.

The memorable scenery of the New Jersey Turnpike always lingers in my mind closely followed by the colorful tollbooths where each new state greets visitors.

On the return back south, the Virginia state line sign is a reason for a deep, cleansing breath, even if it means a few more miles of Northern Virginia.

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As Virginia goes politically from red to purple to blue, perhaps toll roads must come symbolically with the territory, even as far away from the D.C. beltway as one can get.

No one likes toll roads. Every toll road is supposed to be temporary; to tax motorists only until the new highway made possible through the tax is funded.

In case the news isn’t obvious enough recently, and it goes double and triple along I-95 North, there’s always something else governments can find to spend money they (we) don’t have on. So the tolls actually increase, rather than expire.

I’ve driven east and west along Route 460 hundreds of times — more often, even, than through “the Garden State.”

A highway, a road mostly equivalent to an interstate, paralleling Route 460 sounds like a great until, like so many other huge publicly-funded projects, we learn what it would cost.

I don’t know what the facts and figures say about 460’s safety. I do know there are too many memorial signs and markers along the road, and that any trip at night or in bad weather demands a lot of alertness. Maybe it’s worthwhile to discuss the improvements, after all, in light of those concerns.

A tax increase for a stadium for a pro sports team? A nice luxury to have for sure. A big economic upgrade for a region? Perhaps, perhaps not, perhaps a complete waste.

Even if we were going on 10 years with the Norfolk Expos, and even assuming I had the time and cash for 81 tickets a year, I’d choose braving the Downtown Tunnel over watching the game on TV only a few times a season. If I’m a representative sample, there’s reason to wonder whether the payoff would be worth the community’s investment.

But what if the new Route 460 represents a clear public safety improvement? At least a serious matter is worth a serious investment. But did I mention that no one likes taxes?

There’s still another aspect to the debate countless pros and cons, some obvious consequences and, probably, more of the unintended variety.

If a bypass highway is built around Ivor, Windsor, Wakefield, Waverly and Disputanta, what will the drop in traffic mean to the future of the towns?

Clearly, there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered before Virginia commits to this project.