The hardest part?

Published 8:47 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014

After nearly a decade of back and forth about the project, Route 460 is in almost exactly the same situation that it was in when politicians and transportation planners started talking about replacing a segment of the road running from Suffolk to Petersburg.

Years later and with nearly $300 million worth of charges from a contractor hired to build the new road, not one inch of pavement has been laid. Which is not to say that farmers, homeowners and businesses along the proposed route have not been inconvenienced along the way.

Ask C.W. Griffin, who has watched technicians visit his Sussex County property for two years, leaving a pile of dirt and a cut-up road for him to deal with when the state stopped the project upon the revelation that it had not yet received a federal environmental permit and might never receive that permit without major changes to the design and chosen corridor.

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Ask Raymond Warren, vice chairman of the Sussex County Board of Supervisors, who told Virginia Department of Transportation representatives during a town hall meeting on Monday that the continued back-and-forth over the road was causing its own kind of pain for the people who might be affected by it.

“It’s affecting our budget, everything,” Warren said. “It just goes on and on and on, and these people don’t know what to do. It’s unbelievable that this could happen in this country.” Griffin said folks have sold their homes thinking the road was coming through. “Get us the accurate information and stop playing games,” he said.

Those were just the highlights from just the first of five town hall meetings planned by VDOT in advance of the agency’s announcement of a favored option among six considered possibilities for the future of the road. The process of reconsideration began after the preliminary work was stopped earlier this year, effectively resetting the clock to several years ago for property owners at risk of losing land, homes or businesses to one of the options on the table.

Suffolk, which would be the eastern terminus of the new segment under any scenario under consideration, will get a chance to weigh in on the matter on July 31, when King’s Fork High School will host the last of the five town hall meetings at 6 p.m.

It’s a fair bet that folks here will be just as interested in getting some closure on the process as are their neighbors to the west. But considering the fact that nearly all of the options under consideration would require federal environmental approval — and considering the disastrous results of the state’s first effort to obtain that approval for this road — it’s likely this will be a protracted process.

Nobody in Virginia’s elected government will be eager to be seen as pushing through an expensive, unpopular project that has little chance of passing federal muster — at least, they won’t want to be caught doing that for the second time. So VDOT and the governor will press forward, but deliberately.

By the time it’s all over, folks from Suffolk to Petersburg may well be able to attest that the waiting was, indeed, the hardest part.