News | January 20, 2016

New SELC report shows upgrading existing Route 460 a better option

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for another destructive proposal for Route 460 that includes building 12 miles of new highway bypasses on a lightly-travelled corridor at a cost of almost $450 million. This is after VDOT wasted over a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayer money on a proposed 55-mile new Route 460 that was ultimately scrapped last year due to its skyrocketing cost and extensive wetland impacts without a shovelful of dirt being turned.

This new proposal is still far too harmful and costly for the limited benefits it would provide. It would impact 40 acres of wetlands, making it one of the most destructive projects the Corps would have ever permitted in Virginia. Proposed new bypasses would also have considerable impacts on streams, cross numerous tributaries to drinking water supplies for Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Portsmouth, and harm the economy of the Town of Windsor, farmlands, forests, and historic resources.

Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps of Engineers can only grant a permit for the “least environmentally-damaging practicable alternative” for a project, and SELC has argued for over a decade that building a new highway along Route 460 cannot meet this standard, given the availability of cost-effective and less destructive options to upgrade the existing highway—options which VDOT has never adequately considered.

Comments SELC filed today on VDOT’s permit application include an expert report proposing a new alternative to upgrade the existing Route 460. This alternative would bring the existing highway up to modern design standards and produce significant benefits for safety, flooding, and traffic flow in the corridor, but use a narrower right-of-way through the Town of Windsor than previous options considered by VDOT to significantly reduce impacts on homes and businesses. It would also impact far fewer wetlands and other environmental resources than VDOT’s current proposal for a new highway. 

This report makes clear that cost-effective, less harmful options are available to meet the needs of the Route 460 corridor, and that VDOT’s new highway proposal is not the “least environmentally damaging alternative” for this project. In light of this finding and the considerable public opposition to this project, SELC is urging the Corps of Engineers to reject this proposal, and for Virginia to instead focus on improving the existing highway and addressing the many other transportation needs of the region.