SELC urges review of alternatives to destructive new Route 460

A highway proposal currently under review would require permitting one of the greatest wetlands losses on record in Virginia. (© Charles Shoffner)

SELC has submitted a comment letter critiquing the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Highway Administration for the proposed construction of a new Route 460 highway in Tidewater Virginia.

The Final SEIS’s review focuses on a $450 million proposal by the Virginia Department of Transportation along 16 miles of Route 460 between Zuni and Suffolk, which would include building 12 miles of new highway bypasses through rural areas and across numerous wetlands and streams.

VDOT previously pursued construction of a new 55-mile highway from Petersburg to Suffolk (a proposal SELC strongly opposed), but this project was scrapped in early 2015 when it became clear that its impacts on wetlands and other aquatic resources would be too severe for the project to obtain the permits required under the Clean Water Act.

SELC has major concerns with the 16-mile version as well, which would still require the Corps of Engineers to permit one of the greatest wetlands losses on record in Virginia. The proposal would also impact numerous streams, hundreds of acres of wildlife habitat and farmland, and potentially spur significant development in areas designated for rural preservation.

“SELC has long advocated against building a major new highway along this stretch of Route 460 given the limited benefits it would provide along this lightly-traveled corridor in relation to its hefty price tag, considerable environmental and community impacts, and the availability of less costly and less harmful alternatives to upgrade the existing route,” said SELC Senior Attorney Trip Pollard.

“We’re disappointed the Final SEIS continues to fail to consider reasonable alternatives focused on improving the existing highway, including the alternative the proposed earlier this year to upgrade Route 460 through the Town of Windsor,” said SELC Staff Attorney Travis Pietila. “This is inadequate under the National Environmental Policy Act, and we urge the Corps of Engineers to give greater consideration to these options in its ongoing permit review under the Clean Water Act.”

The Corps of Engineers’ review of a permit to authorize the destruction of wetlands for the project continues separately from the Final SEIS. In January, SELC submitted comments on VDOT’s permit application for the 16-mile project, which included a report by traffic engineer Walter Kulash, P.E. proposing an alternative to upgrade the existing highway while minimizing its impacts on communities along the corridor. These comments and the attached report can be found here.

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