Corps issues permit for 460

Published 9:55 pm Monday, October 3, 2016

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit for the U.S. Route 460 project.

The current proposal for the $450 million project includes a new, four-lane, divided highway between U.S. Route 58 in Suffolk to west of Windsor, including a bypass. From west of Windsor to one mile west of Zuni, the existing road would be reconstructed and upgraded to a four-lane divided highway, with a new bridge across the Blackwater River.

The permit from the Corps of Engineers was needed because the project would affect 40 acres of wetlands, as well as numerous streams and tributaries. However, there are still further steps before the project actually gets built.

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Trip Pollard, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he’s doubtful the project will make it through those steps, which are necessary to fund the project.

“There’s an overwhelming feeling of disappointment that this is moving forward,” Pollard said. “We are deeply disappointed that the McAuliffe administration pursued this unnecessary and destructive proposal, and that the Corps of Engineers has issued a permit for it. They both have failed the public on this one.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center is an environmental group opposed to the project in its current form. The group advocates improving Route 460 within its existing right of way.

Pollard said he thinks the project will fail the tests of the state’s new Smart Scale system, which uses objective data to prioritize projects for funding.

“It’s hard to imagine this project scoring well enough under Smart Scale to warrant funding given its hefty price tag, the environmental damage it would cause, and its limited benefits in relieving traffic congestion,” Pollard said.

“We’re still hopeful it doesn’t score well, and we can get back to where we should have been all along.”

VDOT and Corps of Engineers officials did not respond to calls Monday afternoon.

The saga of Route 460 has been a long one, beginning with the governorship of Bob McDonnell. Under him, about $300 million was spent on much larger, 55-mile version of the project without a single shovelful of dirt being turned.

Upon taking office in 2014, McAuliffe suspended work on the road and shut down the contract signed by the previous administration until the Corps of Engineers permit could be obtained. A year later, the new plan was revealed. The town of Windsor was among the entities opposed to it, as it created a bypass around the town.

“As we have argued for over a decade, the needs of this corridor — such as improving safety and alleviating flooding issues — can be effectively addressed through far less costly, and far less damaging, upgrades of the existing highway,” Pollard said.

“Under federal law, the Corps isn’t supposed to issue a permit unless a proposal is the ‘least environmentally damaging practicable alternative’ and its construction would be in the ‘public interest.’ This project fails on both accounts.”