Route 460: Here we go again

Published 9:10 pm Monday, January 19, 2015

Last week wasn’t a good one for Windsor.

For those following the local news, the reason will be obvious; for those not, state transportation officials released new plans to improve U.S. Route 460 that includes a bypass around the north of Windsor.

Town and Isle of Wight County officials had argued in favor of a bypass to the south, which, they say, would have better suited economic development opportunities such as at the Shirley T. Holland Commerce Park.

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Probably the main reason state and federal agencies are proposing a northern bypass is because it would have a lesser effect on wetlands. The northern bypass would save more wetlands but take out more farmland.

I was raised on a farm and credit that experience with helping develop a sense of environmental awareness and sympathy.

Most people with farming in their blood would tell you something similar. There’s the straightforward, practical reason: One can’t make a living from a dead environment. And there’s the one harder to pin down: Nature’s poetic rhythms become a part of you.

The situation Windsor faces is a tough one. One could say that if townsfolk want to pinpoint something at which to aim their displeasure, they should look to the federal Clean Water Act. That’s what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — the environmental permitting authority for the project — follows.

Townsfolk wonder aloud why wetlands are considered more important than farmland. It’s a good question to ask, and not one I’ll attempt to settle here.

The Corps’ mission is to only permit a project design that will achieve the project’s stated purpose and need with the least possible environmental impact.

In deciding that a new 55-mile road from Suffolk to Petersburg would cause too great impact, but an 11-odd-mile road from Suffolk to Windsor is OK, one might wonder what has happened to that original purpose and need.

The wetlands footprint of this new plan is much smaller than the old one. But in the event of a mass evacuation of Hampton Roads and northeastern North Carolina, lane reversals theoretically could mean eight lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic would be whittled down to four where the new road ends just west of Windsor.

This might be when they decide the purpose and need warrants extending the new road on to Petersburg through all those wetlands.

These are just a couple of many questions needing answers. The upcoming new round of public meetings — before the previous round has begun to fade from memory — should be interesting.