November 17, 2014, was the final day of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) 90-day public comment period on the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for alternative routes for the 460 Corridor Project from Suffolk to Petersburg. Issued on September 22, 2014, the draft SEIS was the most recent major development in Virginia’s proposed project for that corridor. Between at least 2000 and 2014, Virginia pursued a plan to build a new high-speed toll expressway paralleling U.S. 460, spanning from Suffolk to Petersburg. This plan was put on hold in March 2014 after analysis by VDOT indicated that the proposed high-speed toll expressway would cause significantly more wetlands damage than previously estimated.
The September 2014 SEIS presented for public comment six alternatives; these alternative routes are mapped and can be seen here on the VDOT Route 460 Project Web Site: http://www.route460project.org/current_work.asp. According to that Web site, the alternatives currently under consideration are the following:
* 4-lane toll road with nine interchanges south of the existing highway (the previous proposal that was put on hold in March 2014);
* 4-lane divided road that runs along the existing U.S. Route 460, with six bypasses (which could be tolled or not tolled) around the existing towns;
* 4-lane divided road that runs north of the existing U.S. Route 460 and could be tolled;
* 4-lane road along the existing U.S. Route 460 with improvements to meet standards for medians, shoulders, and intersections;
* 8-lane road along the existing corridor with an expressway in the center (could be tolled or not tolled), bypasses at the towns, and local-access roadway to the outside;
* No-build option.
According to VDOT’s online form for public comments on the draft SEIS, available online at http://www.virginiadot.org/newsroom/hampton_roads/2014/vdot_fhwa_%26_u.s.76169.asp, the issues under consideration include the following (in the order presented in the form) : roadway deficiencies, safety, capacity for freight shipments, travel delays, emergency evacuation capacity, strategic military connectivity, local economic development plans, environmental impacts, and cost.
Another issue that’s been in the news is how the project would be financed, including the impact on already-sold bonds and potential funding from the Virginia Port Authority. Those issues are discussed in the following Richmond Times-Dispatch articles: New report undercuts US 460 proposal, focuses on improving existing road, 9/22/14; and State suspends $1.4 billion US 460 project, 3/14/14, updated 9/22/14.
Below is a timeline of events since 2000 that have led up to the current situation, taken from the VDOT document, “U.S. Route 460 Corridor Improvements Project Presentation-April 2014,” available (as PDF) online at http://www.route460project.org/documents/U.S._Route_460_Corridor_Improvements_Project_Presentation_Handout.pdf:
2000: Virginia Transportation Act of 2000 designated Route 460 as a “High Priority Corridor” and allocated $25 million for improvements;
2003: Environmental impact statement (EIS, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA) started by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) chief of policy;
June 2008: VDOT chief of policy released Final EIS;
September 2008: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued record of decision on EIS; estimate of amount of wetlands impacted was 130 acres;
October 2009: VDOT chief engineer put Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA) solicitation on hold due to notification that the project was not financeable without a significant public subsidy.
May 2010: VDOT commissioner terminated the PPTA solicitation.
December 2012: FHWA approved project finance plan and the project management plan, and released federal funds for construction.
December 2012: VDOT and the design-builder estimated the wetlands impact to be around 213 acres.
April 2013: VDOT issued a notice to proceed with activities, subject to further environmental investigation.
September 2013: VDOT released an estimated wetlands impact of about 486 acres.
Feb/March 2014: Results of engineering/field work, including minimization efforts, showed estimated wetlands impact to be about 450 acres.
March 14, 2014: State transportation officials shut down contract and permit work on the U.S. 460 expansion project.
September 22, 2014: VDOT, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the FHWA, released a draft supplemental environmental impact (SEIS) estimating that the original proposal would cost more than $1.8 billion and would impact more than 600 acres of wetlands; the draft SEIS presented four other build alternatives, plus a no-build alternative, for public comment.
November 17, 2014: Public comments on the 9/22/14 draft SEIS were due.
For more information, please see VDOT’s Project 460 Web site, http://www.route460project.org.