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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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.

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.

While scrapping the disastrous 55-mile proposal was a major victory for communities and the environment, VDOT and the McAuliffe Administration later pursued a 17-mile version that would have had many of the same problems. The latest plan included building a new four-lane highway that would have bypassed Route 460 between Suffolk and Windsor, and upgrading 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 have been built through rural lands, crossing numerous wetlands and streams and impacting significant farmland and wildlife habitat. The overall project would also 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. 

Over the strong opposition of environmental groups and localities along the proposed route, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Clean Water Act permit authorizing the destruction of wetlands for the new proposal, and Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board submitted the project for scoring under the state’s new system to prioritize projects for funding. The result was in line with what SELC and others had long argued—the proposal simply does not stack up when its considerable cost, limited benefits, and severe impacts are compared to transportation needs elsewhere in the state. 

Based on this result, the McAuliffe Administration, the CTB, and VDOT have wisely decided to not pursue the project further, and instead focus their efforts on identifying less costly and less damaging options to improve the existing Route 460. This is precisely the approach SELC has advocated for a decade as the best option to address the needs of this rural corridor. We will monitor the state’s efforts to pursue this sensible new direction, and offer input as it moves forward.

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