U.S. Route 460 in Virginia

Virginia scrapped plans for a costly and destructive new highway that would harm wetlands and farmland, and now is pursuing upgrades to existing Route 460—an approach SELC has advocated for a decade.

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Virginia pulls the plug on destructive new Route 460 proposal More »

Virginia transportation officials have announced that the state has scrapped plans to build a costly and destructive new highway parallel to the existing Route 460 in the Tidewater region. Instead, the Virginia Department of Transportation will pursue upgrades to the existing highway—precisely the approach that SELC has advocated for a decade as the best option to address the needs of this rural corridor.

"We are pleased that this wasteful and destructive proposal seems to have finally reached the end of the line,” said Trip Pollard, Director of SELC’s Land and Community Program. “And we are glad that the state is shifting its focus to the needs of the existing highway and its communities. This is long overdue."

For years, SELC and localities along the corridor raised serious concerns with the proposed new highway, which included building expansive new bypasses around the existing rural highway and its communities. The proposal would have harmed numerous wetlands, streams, and farms. Its $450 million price tag also would have exhausted more than one-third of all state money available to fund new projects statewide over the next few years.

The final blow for the proposal came with the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s recent decision to not include the project in the state’s six-year funding plan following its poor score under Virginia’s new system to prioritize transportation projects for funding.

“The prioritization process clearly showed that the proposed new Route 460 simply doesn’t stack up when its considerable cost, limited benefits, and severe impacts are compared to other transportation needs,” said SELC Staff Attorney Travis Pietila. 

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The Route 460 saga that has played out in rural Tidewater Virginia is a prime example of how smart transportation advocacy can benefit communities, taxpayers, and the environment.  For well over a decade, the Virginia Department of Transportation sought to build an unnecessary and destructive new highway parallel to the existing Route 460 that would have had severe impacts on wetlands, farms, and communities.  SELC worked throughout that time to oppose these ill-conceived plans, and advocated for making targeted improvements to the existing highway instead—an approach the state has now finally started to advance.

The original proposal, championed by former Governor McDonnell, was to build a $1.8 billion, 55-mile new highway between Petersburg and Suffolk.  This project would have destroyed thousands of acres of forests and farmland, and over 600 acres of wetlands—more than any other project in Virginia since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972.  As SELC had long advocated, the project subsequently was halted, and ultimately terminated, by the McAuliffe Administration as it became clear the project would not be able to obtain the environmental permits needed to move forward.

While scrapping the disastrous 55-mile proposal was a major victory, VDOT then pursued a 17-mile version with many of the same problems.  The latest plan included building 12 miles of new highway bypasses between Suffolk and Windsor, crossing numerous wetlands and streams and impacting significant farmland and wildlife habitat.  The overall proposal would have cost taxpayers up to $450 million—a hefty sum to improve this lightly-traveled  route—while doing nothing to address safety and flooding problems on the rest of the corridor. 

The Commonwealth Transportation Board submitted this new proposal for scoring under the state’s funding prioritization system.  The result was in line with what SELC and others had argued—the new proposal simply did not stack up when its considerable cost, limited benefits, and severe impacts were compared to transportation needs elsewhere in the state. Based on this result, the state wisely decided to shift course in 2017 to instead focus on identifying less costly and less damaging options to improve the existing Route 460.

This new direction is precisely the approach SELC had advocated for over a decade as the best option to address the needs of this rural corridor.  As VDOT’s study of improvements for the existing highway progresses, SELC continues to weigh in to help ensure that adequate solutions are identified for the corridor’s most pressing safety and traffic issues.  This includes the need for careful study of improvements to Route 460 through the Town of Windsor.  In recent comment letters to VDOT, we outline a number of options for this key part of the existing route, and local officials continue to push for greater study of this area as well.

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