Environmental groups scrutinize 460
Two environmental groups are calling for “careful reconsideration” of the potential impacts of a new Route 460.
In a joint submission to the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Chesapeake Bay Foundation say they support the decision to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement “in light of major new information concerning … serious environmental impacts.”
In October, the Virginia Department of Transportation released new information showing the road’s design corridor would impact about 3-1/2 times the amount of wetlands — 474 acres according to the recent estimate — than previously thought.
This added fresh fuel to the fire for opponents of the 55-mile toll road from Suffolk to Petersburg, who say it would destroy too much wetlands for too little public benefit.
Road proponents, however, say the new 460 would serve as an evacuation route, take trucks off the existing road, spread benefits of the port to rural Virginia, and improve national security.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his new administration have apparently frozen future new public spending on the road, which was full-steam-ahead under former Gov. Bob McDonnell, until all necessary permits for the destruction of wetlands are in place.
The SELC and CBF say the new study should thoroughly examine the environmental impacts of VDOT’s preferred plan for the road alongside alternatives, including “the effect on aquatic resources and habitat for threatened and endangered species.”
They call for clarification of the project’s purpose and need, identification of the range of alternatives and analysis of how they would satisfy the project’s purpose and need, and consideration of how VDOT’s decision to toll the preferred alternative — made after the original environmental analysis — would affect usage of the road.
The groups also call for a fresh look into the accuracy of freight and economic development projections used to justify the project, how the alternative of improving the existing Route 460 would provide suitable hurricane evacuation, and the argument that the new road would improve strategic connectivity for the military.
“First and foremost, the SEIS must include a thorough analysis of the environmental impacts of the proposed new Route 460 in comparison to alternatives,” the submission states.
“To the best of our knowledge, this would represent the largest authorized destruction of wetlands for a transportation project in Virginia since Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972, and this would be a significantly greater level of wetlands impacts than a number of other major projects that were terminated due largely to the severity of the aquatic resource impacts they would cause.”
The submission also references the road project’s potential impact on streams, habitat for protected and endangered species, and the Nature Conservancy’s wildfire-mitigation controlled burns in its 3,200-acre Piney Grove Preserve.
“Effects on upland forests, farms and open space, air quality, and inducing inefficient and damaging sprawl development patterns” must also be addressed, the groups state.