IW board supports 460 plan

Published 11:03 pm Friday, February 13, 2015

By Stephen Cowles

Special to the News-Herald

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday reluctantly supported a controversial update of the plan to upgrade and replace a portion of Route 460.

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During a special meeting, called for the purpose of hearing public opinion about the project and deciding whether to come out in favor of or opposed to it, supervisors voted unanimously to support it, even though they have reservations.

The board’s decision comes almost a month after a new proposal was unveiled by the Virginia Department of Transportation, which has recommended a 17-mile update to the highway from Suffolk to Zuni, including an 11-mile segment that would skirt Windsor to the north. VDOT’s previous plan, which was scuttled when it became clear the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would not support with a wetlands permit, had set the new road south of the existing Route 460.

The realignment north of Windsor “shocked everyone,” Supervisor Delores “Dee Dee” Darden said. She and town officials had told Corps officials it was important for the road to follow a southern route to accommodate the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park.

Later, said Darden, who represents the Windsor district, VDOT officials had told county representatives in “no uncertain terms” that there are no other options.

And a meeting with Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne on Feb. 5 gave only slight hope that connections to the town would be made part of the road’s final design.

“The best way is to get along,” Darden said. “It’s not what we want.”

It’s also not what residents want, judging from the public comment during Wednesday’s meeting.

Billy Gwaltney of Deer Path Trail called Route 460, “the most mismanaged road project in the history of Virginia. It’s personal for me, because it comes 1.2 miles on my farm.”

“VDOT told me there will be challenges and will work with me,” he added. “What is the county going to do to help me? If we can hold out, we can do better. It’s life-changing for us, and it’s going to kill your intermodal park.”

Verna Stephenson of Windsor Boulevard said she’s been living in the area for 66 years and has “loved living in this county.”

She suggested that a small adjustment could save businesses such as Perry’s farm or Windsor Wood Working, which would also be affected.

Robert Crocker said the new alternative would be less than 200 yards from the house where he and his wife have lived for decades.

“It’s a little too close for comfort,” he added. “I’m appalled.”

Frank Grubbs, who said he’s an engineer, called the project “the absolutely worst managed contract. It does nothing. I call it a road to nowhere. It’s illogical to me.”

County Administrator Anne Seward warned that Isle of Wight’s options are limited. “It’s this route or nothing. We believe [doing] nothing is the worst option. Basically, we’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons.”

Speaking to the frustrated residents, Chairman Rex Alphin said, “Our hearts go out to you. We’re trying to make the best of the situation.”