460 comment period opens

Published 10:08 pm Friday, June 24, 2016

By Stephen H. Cowles

Special to the News-Herald

A new comment period for U.S. Route 460 began Friday afternoon, when final environmental impact statements for the project were released.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration have issued a Notice of Availability, inviting comments from residents about the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Route 460 project.

Those comments will be accepted for 30 days after the issuance of Friday’s notice.

The document provides decision-makers with information about the environmental impact of the proposed project, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1964. Plans can be viewed online at www.route460project.org.

Residents wanting to see a printed version can do so during business hours at the VDOT district offices in Courtland, Suffolk, Petersburg, Williamsburg and Colonial Heights. The plan is also available for viewing at the libraries in Windsor, Wakefield, Surry and Prince George.

The release goes on to state that after the comment period, all remarks are to be considered and it is anticipated that the USACE will issue a decision on whether to permit the project or not.

Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson, who has been leading opposition to a proposed northern bypass, encouraged local residents to advocate for access from the road to Windsor.

“I would encourage all the people in the Windsor area to make written comments to send to them about the northern bypass and no access for Windsor,” Richardson said. “If we were to have a flood from a storm or whatever, there are areas in Windsor that could flood. So basically, it’s a very dangerous situation for us.”

She added the bypass doesn’t support the town’s economic plan.

“It’s very expensive for the few miles of highway,” Richardson said. “Again, we are supporting redoing 460 through the town and putting in a center lane as designed by Walter Kulash for the Southern Environmental Law Center.”

She added that plan would only would impact two to three businesses in town as well as improve safety. “The center lane acts as a division between the east and west lanes,” she said.

That plan would also cost much less and impact fewer wetlands, “and that should be the one that’s chosen instead of the northern bypass. Then you would have five lanes for evacuations.”

If a favorable permit decision is issued, the proposal will be given a score by “SMART SCALE,” Virginia’s new data-driven prioritization process. In addition to the permit, and the prioritization score, a Record of Decision must be received from FHWA.

Once the necessary environmental decisions have been made and the project is scored, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will decide whether or not to fund the project.

The project has undergone several iterations over the years.

The original proposal would have impacted hundreds of acres of wetlands, causing much concern that the Corps of Engineers would not grant a permit for the project.

The original contract was for construction of a new, limited-access four-lane toll road running 55 miles between Suffolk and Petersburg, at an estimated cost of $1.4 billion.

Pitched by the McDonnell administration as a much-needed evacuation route for Hampton Roads and northeast North Carolina, an economic stimulus for Western Tidewater and a strategic military asset, the project was pushed forward without an environmental approval from the Corps.

In April 2015, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration terminated the contract with a private consortium that aimed to build the road.

At the beginning of 2015, VDOT, the Corps and the Federal Highway Administration outlined a new plan they deemed environmentally feasible. That plan involves a new four-lane road stretching about 12 miles from Suffolk to west of Windsor, and thereafter improving the existing road a further five miles, including a new bridge across the flood-prone Blackwater River.