From boom to bust for Windsor?

Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The project that once put Windsor on the short list of prospective boomtowns in Virginia now threatens its economic viability.

Such is the fickle nature of politics in a state where governors are limited to a single four-year term.

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell made a new interstate-quality highway from Suffolk to Petersburg a cornerstone of his job-creation strategy. Windsor, already a crossroads for two major railroads, was to be the crown jewel of communities along a new U.S. 460 and the site to which McDonnell would recruit a mega-employer such as an automobile plant or steel manufacturer. All that was needed was a four-lane, limited-access highway to complement existing rail infrastructure and create an easy link to the Port of Virginia.

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Windsor seemed on the verge of an economic explosion.

A few years later, McDonnell is out of office and headed to prison. His successor, Terry McAuliffe, was an immediate critic of the project, which took a dramatic turn last week when the Virginia Department of Transportation announced a simplified, cheaper route that would create a 17-mile bypass north of Windsor, connecting back to the existing U.S. 460 at Zuni.

Ivor, Wakefield and Waverly, small towns further west that would have been devastated by McDonnell’s 460, are spared by the new plan. Windsor, in a dramatic change of fortune, could dry up, town officials fear.

The Shirley Holland Intermodal Park and an adjacent 1,600 acres owned by Norfolk Southern railroad wouldn’t be nearly so prime for economic developers looking to lure large employers to Windsor and Isle of Wight County.

County and town officials, who were blindsided by VDOT’s announcement, aren’t even sure they would get an interchange on the new bypass. The existing Route 258 is ill-suited for an interchange.

“I have been here 37 years — raised my children here — and I don’t want Windsor to go away,” business owner Valerie Mitchell told reporter Matthew Ward last week. “Sometimes it sounds like we are going to be a ghost town.”

VDOT’s plan still requires some vetting — and ample opportunity for public comment. But with the all-powerful Army Corps of Engineers apparently behind the supposedly eco-friendly plan, Windsor and Isle of Wight face an uphill battle.

The community’s best hope might be for the debate to drag on for another three years, until a new governor takes office, with yet another plan for Route 460.


STEVE STEWART is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is