Fast Track U.S. 460 Toll Plan in Virginia is Derailed by New Study
The U.S. 460 which runs west to east across Virginia is known for its bad accident record while the need to improve the road has occupied legislators for more than a decade.
However, plans to give the road an ambitious facelift as a $1.4 billion toll road have been shot down by a new environmental study, which makes the full extent of the potential damage to the environment apparent.
While I’m relieved another toll road is becoming increasingly unlikely, I hope the highway sees some safety improvement.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on how a A new environmental impact study revealed that the $1.4 billion toll road which was advocated by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell would cost more than $1.8 billion to be built and damage more than 600 acres of wetlands. The study says improving the existing highway would cost less than $1 billion and affect just 91 acres of wetlands.
“Clearly it appears that (the current design) is not going to be a good alternative,” Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne told the media in an interview Monday.
“I think it’s telling us if there’s going to be improvements, it’s going to be centered around the existing corridor,” Layne added.
Environmental organizations including the Southern Environmental Law Center lauded the draft study, performed by the Virginia Department of Transportation in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration. The nonprofit claimed the superhighway would cause unacceptable damage to the rural environment along its 55-mile length through southeastern Virginia.
Although changing course may be a sensible option the state may not recoup as much as $300 million spent on the project without a single federal wetlands permit being secured.
“This is going to create a real dilemma,” Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in the Richmond Times-Dispatch story and one of the sharpest critics of the contract signed by the McDonnell administration in late 2012.
The release of the draft study kicks off a 90-day public comment period that includes three public hearings in Prince George, Sussex and Isle of Wight on top of briefings for local elected officials in towns and counties along U.S. 460.
The study is important for Hampton Roads. An improved route would mean a better hurricane evacuation from South Hampton Roads, while it would help move cargo in and out of ports such as Norfolk and Portsmouth.
In the past there have been a number of high profile crashes on US 460 including a wreck in Suffolk in 2013, that involved two tractor trailers, and six cars and left a man dead.
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