New Report Offers Less Costly and Less Destructive Plan for U.S. Route 460

Richmond, VA—Today the Southern Environmental Law Center released a report, prepared by Walter Kulash, a transportation engineer with over 40 years experience, proposing an alternative to upgrade existing Route 460 between Suffolk and Zuni that would effectively meet the needs of this corridor at far lower cost and with far fewer impacts than the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) current proposal to build a new highway, as well as previous options VDOT has considered to improve the existing route.

After wasting over a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayer money on a proposed 55-mile new Route 460 that was ultimately scrapped due to its high cost and severe wetlands impacts without a shovelful of dirt being turned, VDOT is now seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for another damaging proposal for Route 460 that includes building 12 miles of new highway bypasses at a cost of almost $450 million.

“This new proposal is still far too costly and destructive, and it cannot be justified given the relatively modest transportation needs of this lightly-traveled corridor,” said Trip Pollard, Senior Attorney and Director of SELC’s Land and Community Program. “With far less environmentally damaging alternatives available, this route cannot be permitted under federal law.” 

Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps of Engineers is only authorized to issue a permit for the “least environmentally-damaging practicable alternative” for a project.

VDOT’s new proposal would impact 40 acres of wetlands (2.5 acres per mile), which would make it one of the most destructive projects the Corps of Engineers would have ever permitted in Virginia.  Proposed new bypasses would also cross tributaries to drinking water supplies for Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Portsmouth, as well as have considerable impacts on streams, farmland, forests, historic resources, and the economy of the Town of Windsor, which sits along the current route and would be bypassed by the new proposal.  Not surprisingly, VDOT’s proposal faces tremendous public opposition.

SELC has long argued that the needs of the corridor—such as improving safety and alleviating flooding issues—can be effectively addressed with much fewer impacts through targeted improvements on the existing Route 460, and that VDOT has never adequately considered this option.

The new report by Walter Kulash, submitted to the Corps of Engineers with SELC’s comments on VDOT’s permit application, proposes a new alternative that would upgrade the existing highway, but would minimize impacts on homes and businesses by using a significantly reduced right-of-way within the Town of Windsor compared to alternatives VDOT considered.  The Kulash alternative would still produce significant safety, flooding, and traffic flow benefits, while avoiding the considerable impacts of building new bypasses through rural lands.

“The availability of cost-effective, far less destructive options to upgrade the existing highway, such as the alternative proposed in this report, demonstrates that building 12 miles of new highway bypasses is not the ‘least environmentally-damaging practicable alternative’ for this project,” said Pollard.  “The Corps of Engineers should reject VDOT’s proposal,and the state should finally focus on effective, targeted improvements to Route 460.”

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