In a letter dated yesterday, one day before the McDonnell administration announced the closing of the $1.4 billion U.S. 460 upgrade, Virginia’s three Democratic congressmen urged state and local officials to delay implementation of the project to make sure it is “properly viewed and analyzed.”
The tolled highway between Suffolk and Petersburg would carry only 8,700 vehicles a day when it opens in 2018 but would have substantial impact on “valuable wetlands and other natural resources,” states the letter, signed by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-11; Bobby Scott, D-3rd; and Jim Moran, D-8th.
VDOT’s underwhelming traffic projections for the project are of particular concern considering the transportation funding challenges we face at both the Federal and State levels. A decision to divert a significant portion of limited transportation funding to build a new Route 460, which has such low traffic congestion that it twice failed to generate private sector interest in constructing and operating the toll road in exchange for revenue, must be examined in a thorough and transparent fashion.
We believe that Virginia’s scarce transportation dollars must be prioritized and directed toward the Commonwealth’s most critical transportation needs, such as financing the third crossing of the Hampton Roads, reducing the proposed excessive tolls at the Midtown and Downtown tunnels in Norfolk, expanding I-64 between Richmond and Newport News, and numerous critical project in Northern Virginia.
The Army Corps of Engineers has not yet granted the permits for the project and “numerous” state legislators and local officials have raised questions about the project, noted Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Now, with the Congressional inquiry, there may be additional and much needed scrutiny of the project, the contracts for which hopefully have contingency clauses allowing the state to cancel or withdraw from the contract.”
Bacon’s bottom line: Do three Democratic congressmen and the Army Corps of Engineers answering to a Democratic Obama administration have enough pull to delay the project? I don’t know. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.