U.S. Route 460 in Virginia

Proposed changes to Route 460 would impact a substantial amount of wetlands and farms, and would cost taxpayers up to $425 million—a hefty sum to improve a lightly-traveled corridor.


Photo © Charles Shoffner

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Destructive Route 460 project fails to make the grade More »

A wasteful and destructive new highway proposal in Virginia may have reached the end of the line. The preliminary scores released yesterday under Virginia’s new system used to prioritize transportation projects for funding, called “SMART SCALE,” confirm what SELC has long argued—there are much better ways to spend the $450 million it would cost to build a new Route 460 in rural Tidewater.

For years, SELC has advocated against the project, which includes building expansive new bypasses around the existing rural highway and its communities, impacting numerous wetlands, streams, and farms. Instead, SELC has called for less costly and far less damaging upgrades to the existing route to address flooding and safety issues.

“This is exactly the type of unneccessarily costly and destructive project that the prioritization process is intended to weed out,” said Senior Attorney Trip Pollard. “We hope the low ranking will finally put an end to the Commonwealth’s pursuit of this boondoggle, and we can now move forward with planning to improve the existing route and other statewide priorities.”

Following a series of public meetings, Virginia’s transportation board will take SMART SCALE scoring and recommendation into account in June when making its final decision on whether to fund the project, along with others from around the state. If funded, the $450 million cost of the new Route 460 would exhaust more than one-third of all state money available to fund new projects statewide over the next few years.

Read the Virginian-Pilot coverage of the latest developments here.

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At the insistence of former Governor McDonnell, the Virginia Department of Transportation pushed forward a $1.8 billion project to build an unnecessary, destructive new 55-mile highway parallel to the existing Route 460 between Petersburg and Suffolk. This proposal 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. Roughly $300 million of taxpayer funds were spent on the project without a shovel ever hitting the ground.

Shortly after taking office, Governor McAuliffe halted work on the project after federal agencies required a new environmental analysis to determine whether such a harmful proposal could move forward. As SELC had long advocated, the state then decided to terminate the contract for this now widely discredited proposal, and negotiated a deal to recover some of the funds paid for the project.

While scrapping the disastrous 55-mile proposal was a major victory for communities and the environment, VDOT and the McAuliffe Administration are now pursuing a 17-mile version that has many of the same problems. The latest plan is to build a new four-lane highway that bypasses the existing Route 460 between Suffolk and Windsor, and to upgrade the existing highway from Windsor to Zuni, including a large new bridge over the Blackwater River. 

The proposal’s 12 miles of new highway bypasses would be built through rural lands, crossing numerous wetlands and streams and impacting significant farmland and wildlife habitat. The overall project would also 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. 

Over the strong opposition of environmental groups and localities along the proposed route, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a Clean Water Act permit authorizing the destruction of wetlands for the new proposal. While the Corps’ decision is disappointing, a number of steps remain before the project can move forward, including evaluation under the state’s new system used to prioritize transportation projects for funding.

SELC is reviewing the Corps’ decision, and we continue to urge state and federal officials to instead pursue far less costly, and far less damaging, options to meet the corridor’s needs through targeted improvements to the existing highway.

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