The wrong plan for Route 460

Published 5:53 pm Saturday, January 30, 2016

For a man known as a broker of deals, the message from Gov. Terry McAuliffe during a visit to Kerma Medical Products in Suffolk this week was clear and consistent.

“We need to increase trade,” he said after meeting with company officials and touring their operation on Suburban Drive.

The governor talked to them about how his administration could help them achieve their goals of taking their business to other countries, and he charged Secretary of Commerce and Trace Maurice Jones with helping to smooth the path toward those goals.


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Then, during a brief chat before leaving Suffolk for Newport News, where he was on hand for an economic development announcement for that city, he talked for a bit about transportation and the ports. Again, the thrust of his remarks was that Virginia should be making it easier for companies to do business here.

Calling the ports “a vital asset” and pointing to the lead Virginia will have on other East Coast ports when the supersized Panamax ships begin heading through the upgraded Panama Canal, he cautioned that the commonwealth cannot afford to rest on those laurels.

“Let’s not squander the lead,” he said, noting that other port cities along the East Coast already are making the improvements that will be necessary for them, too, to be able to accommodate the big ships that only Hampton Roads’ harbor can currently handle.

Widening I-64 is a part of his plan, he said, and an upgrade to Route 460 is another.

The governor used a great word — “travesty” — to describe the Route 460 debacle under the administration of former Gov. Bob McDonnell, which cost the commonwealth about $300 million with not one shovelful of dirt turned in the process and an entirely new plan now under consideration.

But for all the hubris that characterized McDonnell’s push for a new road between Suffolk and Petersburg, that plan at least made sense from the standpoint of alleviating traffic along the corridor and giving trucks relatively unfettered access to I-95 from Suffolk.

The plan McAuliffe’s Department of Transportation has presented — which consists of a new road from Suffolk to just past Windsor and then would dump traffic back onto the existing highway — fails to meet that goal, and McAuliffe’s responses to questions about the deficiency were inadequate and evasive.

“We do need help on 460 for the port to increase commercial activity,” he said. “Our goal is to get more access points and more activity for the port. We can’t do that on 64. We’re going to have a lot more traffic.”

That, frankly, is exactly why the current plan for Route 460 is inadequate. “A lot more” truck traffic on the unimproved road west of Zuni — traffic that will still be impeded in Ivor, Wakefield, Waverly and Disputanta — is not likely to be a recipe for attracting industrial investment in Hampton Roads. Trucking companies can see the problems they’ll face with a simple look at an online map. And any with the common sense to scout the route will quickly realize the latest attempt by VDOT to fix the problem amounts to little more than a bandage on a broken limb.

Yes, Virginia needs to improve access to and from its ports in Hampton Roads, and Gov. McAuliffe deserves heaps of praise for his efforts to fix the transportation problems here that he inherited. But his administration’s plan for Route 460 will not advance the cause of transportation or the ports. There may be a plan for this road that helps increase trade, but this one isn’t it.