HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – The Route 460 project to design and build a new highway from Suffolk to Petersburg has been put on hold.
Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne made the announcement Friday afternoon in Virginia Beach. The reason the project is on hold is the Virginia Department of Transportation project failed to get environmental permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Suspending contract and permit work is a prudent and practical move to cut spending while the focus is 100 percent on securing environmental approvals,” Layne said. “The Commonwealth remains committed to moving forward on Route 460 corridor improvements. They are needed to provide an additional hurricane evacuation route and to better move commerce from the port. This benefits safety, mobility and future economic development. But services are not needed now from US 460 Mobility Partners, the design-build firm that was contracted to build the new Route 460. This will limit costs to only what is absolutely necessary to conduct environmental work, which will be led and managed by VDOT.”
US 460 Mobility Partners was awarded the $1.4 billion contract in late 2012. The project did have a Record of Decision from the Federal Highway Administration, but needed a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, due to the impacts to streams and wetlands.
The Corps requested VDOT update environmental impacts and look at other alternatives. Once completed, the Corps will consider a permit.
“It’s too early to determine the final outcome of the project at this time,” Layne added. “The environmental review process, which will include public input, will help to decide what’s best for the region. We have to let that process unfold. In the meantime, no public dollars will be spent on the project other than what is necessary to complete the environmental review process.”
From the start of the project, the Army Corps has been opposed to the project: “No, I don’t believe they were obstructionist in anyway,” Layne said. “We can say they over-reached. My guess is they would say we were pushing them in that regard.”
The fact is, the proposed route is likely dead. Building on the current 460 may be the only way to move forward: “I would say the odds have swung in the favor of improving the current road,” Layne said.
If the current road is the route in the end, then that reduces the chance there will be a toll on the road: “I am not suggesting there won’t be a toll, but I am saying it lessons the chance of it,” Layne said.
If the 460 project goes away, will the millions dedicated to the project go towards paying down the tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels?
“There is no plan to take money off this project until we get to the very end and see what we are actually going to build,” Layne said. “It would go through the [Commonwealth Transportation Board] process, and there is no guarantee it would be on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, or any project in Hampton Roads, or any project in the state.”
While there’s always been pressure to put that 460 money towards the tolls, the Army Corps wants other alternatives.
WAVY.com’s calls to the contractor, U.S. 460 Mobility Partners, were not returned. The company was to get $35 million a month this year for the project.
This delay will take about a year, and it is clear this is a case of putting the cart before the horse: that is going ahead with a billion-dollar road project before getting the vital environmental permits needed to get the project going.
Click here for more information about the Route 460 bypass project.