U.S. 460 Project Proposals in Southeastern Virginia Involved Wetlands, Ports, Traffic, Hurricane Evacuation Routes, Local Economies, and, Ultimately, Reforms to Virginia Transportation-funding Policy; Update as of 12/15/15

This summary of events regarding proposals to expand U.S. 460 in southeastern Virginia was originally posted in November 2014.  The latest update was made on 12/15/15.

Original Information

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 is how the project was to be (or would be) financed, including the impact on already-sold bonds, potential funding from the Virginia Port Authority, and the implications for Virginia’s overall process of financing in public-private partnerships.  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; State suspends $1.4 billion US 460 project, 3/14/14, updated 9/22/14; and McAuliffe official says politics and media drove McDonnell on U.S. 460 project, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/21/15.

Timeline of Events 2000-2014
Below is a timeline of events since 2000 that have led up to the situation through November 2014, 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.  Additional developments after November 2014 re noted at the end of the timeline.

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.

Later Developments (last update on 7/6/15)
January-March 2015: On January 13, 2015, Gov. McAuliffe announced proposals on the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA) and transportation-funding distributions.  The proposals were in HB 1886 and HB 1887, sponsored by Del. S. Chris Jones of Suffolk; both bills passed. According to the governor’s office news release on Jan. 13, the legislative package focused on the following areas: “Reforming the PPTA process, commonly referred to as the P3 program; Replacing the old transportation funding formula with a new system that will better meet transportation needs and improve reliability and transparency…; Focusing resources on fixing aging bridges and pavement; Improving oversight of project spending by creating a more independent Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) by establishing that the Governor can only terminate CTB members for cause; Providing stability in the funding stream for transit capital projects.”  According to news reports, the bills were prompted particularly by problems that developed with the public-private partnership arrangement for the proposed expansion of U.S. 460 between Petersburg and Suffolk.  Sources: Governor McAuliffe Announces Transportation Reforms, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 1/13/15; McAuliffe official says politics and media drove McDonnell on U.S. 460 project, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/21/15; General Assembly notebook: House considers safeguards on public-private transportation deals, reported by Richmond Times-Dispatch and published by Roanoke Times, 2/2/15.

February 2015 – On February 18, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a significantly different proposal from the original 55-mile project: improvements along a 17-mile section of U.S. 460 between Zuni (in Isle of Wight County) and Suffolk. Following the Transportation Board’s approval, the proposal—which is currently estimated to affect about 50 acres of wetlands—moves to the phase of seeking state and federal permits.  Sources: State panel allows scaled-back U.S. 460 project to move forward, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/18/15; and VDOT, U.S. detail new plan for 460, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/12/15.

June 2015: In mid-June 2015, The CTB approved a new scoring process for approving funding for transportation projects. Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Lane announced details of how transportation projects are now to be selected for funding. The development of a new process began when the 2014 General Assembly passed HB 2, which established criteria for the Board to use in setting a prioritization process.  Sources: Governor McAuliffe Announces New Data-Driven Scoring Process to Fund the Right Transportation Projects for Virginia, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 6/17/15; Virginia rethinks approach to transportation project funding; Reforms to the state’s allocation process will prioritize projects based on public benefit, Roanoke Times, 7/5/15.

July 2015: On July 2, 2015, Gov. Terry McCauliffe announced a settlement with US 460 Mobility Partners, the private contractor that the Commonwealth had hired to build the formerly planned high-speed toll road. Under the settlement, the Commonwealth will recover $46 million and will not have to pay $103 million previously claimed by the contractor.  Source: Book closes on U.S. 460 project at $260 million cost to state, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/2/15.

December 2015: In December 2015, VDOT was applying to the Corps of Engineers for permits for the revised plan approved by Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board in February 2015. The public comment period on VDOT’s application was to close on January 5, 2016. Information about the VDOT application is available online at http://www.nao.usace.army.mil/Media/PublicNotices/tabid/3060/Article/631491/nao-2008-03470-route-460.aspx.   Source: Public comment sought on 460, Suffolk News Herald, 12/5/15

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