Wary and waiting: 460 plans still sketchy

Published 7:54 pm Saturday, January 24, 2015

This map from the Virginia Department of Transportation shows proposed changes to the Route 460 interchange in Suffolk.

This map from the Virginia Department of Transportation shows proposed changes to the Route 460 interchange in Suffolk.

Shown a map indicating how a new Route 460 might connect to Suffolk, Deb Munn didn’t know quite what to think.

“I’ve got some mixed emotions of them cutting off Murphys Mill Road,” Munn said, standing on her front porch and studying a map with sweeping lines and rows of X’s.

The eastern terminus diagram for the project’s previous iteration, a 55-mile toll road between Suffolk and Petersburg, was developed by 460 Mobility Partners, the private consortium brought on board after a procurement process fraught with controversy.

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Now, it’s the best indication available of what new plans state transportation officials announced two weeks ago might mean for Suffolk.

Citing environmental concerns, the McAuliffe administration froze contract work on the previous alignment last year, before any construction though still $300 million in. The latest plans include a four-lane road between Suffolk and just west of Windsor, and from there improving the existing 460 about another six miles west, with a new bridge across the Blackwater River. Combined length: 17 miles.

Indicated for Suffolk in the early eastern terminus concept are significant alterations and additions to some existing roads, including deleting a section of Murphys Mill Road where it crosses the 58 bypass, just past where the existing 460 peels off westbound.

For Munn and others on Murphys Mill Road west of the bypass, convenient access through to North Main Street would be a thing of the past. Grocery shopping at Farm Fresh, for instance, would no longer be quite a quick drive. East of the bypass, a new north-south road would connect Murphys Mill to North Main Street.

Other possible changes include replacing the existing ramp connecting westbound 460 to the eastbound 58 bypass with a left turn onto the existing loop ramp.

New ramps would sweep through to the bypass from the terminus of the new road, just south-east of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s buildings.

Relocating General Early Drive roughly 1,000 feet to the east — and presumably improving what’s currently a gravel road — as well as adding additional shorter ramps would provide access for local traffic to the new 460.

The plans could send more traffic past Munn and others living on the western side of Murphys Mill Road, which would funnel local traffic onto the new 460 — which officials say would be unlikely to be tolled — via Pitchkettle Road.

But Munn noted that using Murphys Mill to drive between Pitchkettle and North Main would no longer be possible.

“I’m more concerned about noise coming from the new road,” Munn said. “Depending on which way the wind blows, you can hear 58.”

Mike Tugman, consultant project manager, said further evaluation remains before engineers develop draft plans to present to the public for feedback.

“We are trying to provide optimal system-to-system interchange and maintain access to the existing roads in the footprint,” he said.

According to city of Suffolk spokesman Tim Kelley, “the proposed improvements at the eastern terminus appear to address several of the city’s concerns which were raised during the public input phase of the project, specifically regarding impacts to local traffic.”

“City staff will be in a position to comment further once they have had the opportunity to review the plans with VDOT staff in greater detail,” Kelley added.

Improving freight movement inland on trucks from the Port of Hampton Roads is a major objective of plans for the interchange between Suffolk Bypass and a new road through to west of Windsor, “and (of) improving the corridor in general,” Tugman said.

“This concept does involve that, and that would be part of any improvement of the concept,” he added.

The Suffolk News-Herald sought feedback from developers of some local distribution-focused business parks, without immediately hearing back. Nansemond-Suffolk Academy spokeswoman Karen Schompert stated, “Once we have more information, we will be able to comment.”

Plans for the eastern terminus are likely to change, said the 460 improvement project’s environmental manager, Angel Deem.

“I would say that it’s likely to change somewhat from what we have laid out,” Deem said. “Mobility Partners may have ideas for optimizing that interchange. We may get feedback from local jurisdictions and the public.”