Crucial new information on Route 460

Published 9:37 pm Monday, September 29, 2014

Last week’s news of an updated environmental study of the various options to build a new Route 460 or improve the existing road was especially important for anyone with a stake in the project.

The crucial takeaway from the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement: Unless the state wants to see open revolt from those who were already opposed to the new road for its high cost and environmental impact, officials should decide to rehabilitate the existing road or go with one of the five build options with a lower price tag and disruption to wetlands.

After an earlier dramatic increase in predicted wetlands impacts led to a freeze on new spending, the previously preferred alternative’s footprint has now jumped from 474 to 613 acres.

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While that’s sure to stir the ire of those with a keen environmental conscience, the cost increase will draw even more widespread opposition. The cost estimate has gone up from $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion — 30 percent more tax money for a road many believe we don’t need.

For Western Tidewater, the biggest concerns — besides cost and environmental impact — are how the road would impair access to privately held properties, how it would take property from private hands through compulsory acquisition, and highway safety.

The new study, available online at, provides detailed information on how many farms, residences and businesses each option would consume.

For instance, the previously preferred alternative — a four-lane, limited access toll road south of the existing 460 — involves 2,416 acres of right-of-way acquisitions, potentially displacing 111 residences, 12 businesses, five farms and four not-for-profit facilities.

A table in the executive summary also details many other things, including impacts on endangered species and archeological sites, and the number of interchanges and railroad crossings.

Incidentally, the cheapest of option is also the only one that doesn’t consider tolling. It involves improving the existing road for $974 million, and it’s an option I’ve heard a lot of support for among everyday folks.

The fifth alternative detailed is a complicated one — expanding the existing road to eight lanes divided equally between tolled and untolled. The tolled lanes would have limited access. At $2.48 billion, it’s also the most expensive.

Many people have been justifiably critical of how the project has been managed. By moving ahead without the necessary permits, it’s a classic example of putting the cart before the horse.

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne’s comments at a Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission meeting Monday indicate there may at least be a silver lining:

Citing the media attention over the project, he said: “It’s caused VDOT to look at how it looks at wetlands and high-risk projects,” and how public-private partnership projects can be improved, with greater accountability.