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VDOT U.S. 460 alternatives include simple upgrade of existing road

State officials are looking at alternatives for a new U.S. 460 that include a toll road project they put on ice in March as well as a simply upgrading the 55-mile stretch from Hampton Roads to the outskirts of Petersburg to meet current high-speed highway standards.

The officials, working with their federal counterparts and the Army Corps of Engineers, expect to recommend a route for a new U.S. 460 or a program of improvements to the existing road by the end of the year, the Virginia Department of Transportation said.

The agency said it is looking at five alternatives for the project, which Gov. Terry McAuliffe put on hold in March, bemoaning the $180 million taxpayers have already shelled out for a public-private partnership that had not secured critical permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

VDOT is working on a draft environmental impact statement for the five alternatives. It is aiming for public hearings on the alternatives and its findings on environmental impacts in the fall.

Officials are collecting information about how each of the alternatives would affect wetlands, streams, air quality, noise levels, wildlife habitat and historical resources.

The agency also will look at what each alternative would require in terms of buying rights of way, as well as impact on minority populations and potential relocation of individuals businesses and utilities.

"Care is also being taken to consider how a new or improved Route 460 fits in with local comprehensive plans," VDOT said.

One of the alternatives is the four-lane toll road running south of U.S. 460 that had been the state's preferred alternative.

Another is to rebuild the existing road to meet current standards for pavement, medians, shoulders and intersections.

Yet another would build a new four-lane road along the current route, with six bypasses around towns on the route. The study will look at whether to put tolls on the bypasses or not.

Still another calls for an eight-lane road on a corridor along the current route, with bypasses around the town. Two east bound and two westbound names would have tolls, and the bypasses would connect to the lanes with tolls.

The final alternative would look at a route to the north of the current U.S. 460.

The Corps told VDOT in February 2013 that the route selected for the $1.4 billion project would run through many more acres of wetlands than first thought, putting a permit for the work in doubt. But since the partnership contract was not contingent on obtaining permits, the state continued to pay for design and engineering work on the new road.

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell pushed hard for the project, which aims to speed truck traffic to and from the port, make a faster hurricane evacuation route and boost economic growth in the rural counties of western Tidewater and the Petersburg area.

The state signed a 773-page contract with US 460 Mobility Partners, a partnership between major construction firms Ferrovial Agroman and American Infrastructure, for the $1.4 billion project in December 2012. Commonwealth Transportation Board members later said they didn't fully understand risks involved in the deal.

Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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