Layne (left) and McAuliffe. Photo credit:
Layne (left) and McAuliffe. Photo credit:

Will Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe reverse one of the biggest legacies of the McDonnell administration, construction of the new U.S. 460 between Petersburg and Suffolk?

The $1.4-billion, Interstate-grade highway, upon which the McDonnell administration has already lavished $200 million, has cleared all significant hurdles but one: approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. But the project would impact 480 acres of wetlands, and the Corps has warned that the state is proceeding at its own risk.

McAuliffe told the Virginian-Pilot Wednesday that the state shouldn’t spend money on the project until it was “100 percent sure” the federal permit would be issued. Even if the feds do approve the project, he said, he’s still not firmly committed to the project. “I’m going to take a hard look.”

It’s difficult to know how seriously to take McAuliffe. On the one hand, he is deeply indebted to environmental groups, who contributed more campaign cash than any other industry or advocacy group. On the other, it’s hard to square cancellation of U.S. 460 with the selection of Aubrey L. Layne, a Hampton Roads businessman, as secretary of transportation. Layne worked for years to get the U.S. 460 project built and now chairs the funding authority for it!

As a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board under McDonnell, Layne made the case that the highway would provide an alternate hurricane evacuation route for Hampton Roads and a second outlet for freight-laden trucks out of Virginia’s ports. The ports are expected to be a major beneficiary when the Panama Canal widening project is completed in 2015.

Would Layne really have signed up for the top transportation job if he thought McAuliffe would pull the rug from the project? Is McAuliffe just making noises to appease the environmentalist lobby? It will be fun to watch how the governor-elect wiggles his way out of this one.


Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


32 responses to “Can McAuliffe Thread the U.S. 460 Needle?”

  1. cpzilliacus Avatar

    JAB wrote:

    The $1.4-billion, Interstate-grade highway, upon which the McDonnell administration has already lavished $200 million, has cleared all significant hurdles but one: approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. But the project would impact 480 acres of wetlands, and the Corp has warned that the state is proceeding at its own risk.

    The Corps of Engineers could (presumably) ask that routes be evaluated which reduce impact on wetlands (but may anger property owners). Is it possible to avoid any of those 480 acres? I cannot answer that. Or does the proposed road need to stay on that route – in which case environmental mitigation could get very expensive.

    1. VDOT does not sweat the “small stuff” . Up our way they had a proposed road that had three Federal Agencies opposed and it did not faze them (but it did FHWA).

    2. to give you an idea of the “public process” that is conducted for issues like this, I’d challenge anyone here to produce a map of the affected wetlands and the proposed route through them.

  2. TollRoad new has some comments:

    worth reading. and they say: ” And oddly it has moved this far even though it still needs wetlands permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers.”

    VDOT has apparently decided that environmental regulation has significantly weakened and is essentially betting that the Army Corp will blink…

    but there are other problems:

    “… a single plan could not be finaliszed because it is unclear if the USDOT will come through with a TIFIA loan. ”

    that’s not a good omen… If FHWA bails on TIFIA, this project is going to
    start to get the Pocahontas parkway stink on it.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka


    Very interesting to note how McA will handle this. Pretty clear Connaughton has pushed this as far as he could. Whether you agree with him or not, you have to admire the guy.

  4. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    Its been fun watching VDOT get away without following the same rules as land developers in the State of Virginia since the ChesBay act. When I worked in the field it wasn’t lost on me that any time VDOT wanted a project expedited the environmental review by DEQ and the army corps always seems to turn a blind eye allowing massive mud pots that VDOT calls “advanced extended detention basins” wetlands mitigation, all the while developers could create acres of bioretention and green roofs and not attain any mitigating benefit when it came to wetland disturbance.

    Not that I support cheap land developers who want to destroy acres of wetlands in order to put up a few cheap mcmansions (thank god I am out of that profession) but VDOT being the biggest land owner in the state sure could go a long way in leading by example.

    Biggest issue I have with this project has nothing to do with wetlands (I’m sure the tall grasses are very beautiful and the native cricket population by being saved will surely save us all from global climate change) it has to do with $1.4 billion going as a gift to the freight industry on the taxpayers backs.

    If it will help the ports become so much more profitable, then why aren’t they building it themselves, Virginia could even help them expedite the review ala VDOT.

    PS, moving freight by truck is so 1950, evidently they havent heard that CSX (and I assume Norfolk Southern can as well) moves 1 ton of freight 500 miles on less than a gallon of gas. Perhaps we should be looking more into that.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      “Its been fun watching VDOT get away without following the same rules as land developers in the State of Virginia since the ChesBay act …”

      It’s great to learn how things really work in Virginia in its real world system.

    2. we’ve had some new roads done in our area and I can say the storm runoff facilities are much more prominent now than before.

      I know the localities have local ordinances that are consistent with the state model regulation but I’m not sure who VDOT answers to.

      We had some major controversy up our way when VDOT used eminent domain – not for the road – but for the storm pond. That’s was not popular.

    3. The enforcement of the ChesBay Act is clouded with as much potential political intrigue and under-the-table deals as anything. I attended several meetings with various engineers, including those from Fairfax County. No one is confident that enforcement is fair or even rational. Experts admit they really don’t have much of an idea of how to handle storm water, so they muck around and muddle. Politics seem to have great sway, as rural localities have negotiated better deals than urban ones. From what I’ve learned over the last two years or so, I have no idea whether Fairfax County is being treated fairly or not or even whether the standards make any sense. And quite a few engineers have come to the same conclusion. We need a lot more explanation and transparency on this issue, IMO.

      1. Chesapeake Bay is not the wetland laws though. they’re different.

        although I do agree with you that since we are not approaching this like we do with NDPES – that what is recommended/mandated is not easily verified as to performance, much less to cost effectiveness.

        We have to measure. It’s the only way we really know if we are affecting the receiving waters…

        but be careful what we wish for because if we start measuring directly the outflows of storm water – it’s going to show conclusively that there is stuff in the water that is getting released now that will end up with storm water having to be treated like a wastewater treatment plant.. except one for each storm pond. There basic approach is to reduce the total volume of the storm water in hopes that in doing so.. the contaminates will be reduced just by sheer reduction of the volume of what they are in.

        the more impervious surfaces there are – the denser the development the more parking lots.. etc.. the more developed an area – the tougher the storm water problems.

  5. cpzilliacus Avatar

    Tysons Engineer wrote:

    PS, moving freight by truck is so 1950, evidently they havent heard that CSX (and I assume Norfolk Southern can as well) moves 1 ton of freight 500 miles on less than a gallon of gas. Perhaps we should be looking more into that.

    You mention 500 miles above. For a move of less than somewhere between 400 and 500 miles, trucking is frequently the better mode of transportation (though there are always exceptions, an example being municipal refuse).

    Stated differently, there will likely always be a lot of truck traffic in and out of Hampton Roads and its competing Atlantic Coast ports (Baltimore; Wilmington, Del.; Philadelphia; Wilmington, N.C. and Charleston, S.C. being some of the more-prominent ones).

    Does the future projected volume of Hampton Roads-related truck traffic justify the construction of this project? Short answer: I don’t have a clue.

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer

      I have never heard the 400 to 500 mile figure. Obviously short hauls favor trucks for access and also because train freight attains its efficiency from going many miles without stopping but if the number was 400-500 then the entire midwest service to the mid atlantic would be in favor of truck vs rail which at sustained fuel prices as we have seen is not the case. The rail freight industry is in many ways seeing a renaissance from oil cargo (long haul) between N.Dakota and the Gulf but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also moving freight in the midwest and along the midatlantic increasingly.

      Are trucks still king on the 95 corridor? Yes. At $5 to $7 diesel where we are all but assured of seeing in the next decade will that be the case? I dont know. It seems right now like we are at an inflection point whether the rail industry is going to go one way or the other.

      Also I’d argue that much of what is entailed to come through at H.R. could end up in the Northeast does exceed 400 miles, as well as to the population/manufacturing in the midwest. Do you have any reading materials on the subject?

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        cpzilliacus has it about right.

        Mixed mode truck haulage up to around the 400 mile mark is king of the road over rail or air properly integrated. Logistics heavyweights FedEx and UPS have refined such 400 mile haulage to an art by building it into a highly sophisticated matrix of regional distribution centers (air and ground) that are typically 400 miles apart and local centers clustered around these regional centers sometimes with air cargo facilities.

        Air cargo transport of course does typically does the long haul over 400 miles under this model. So big rig long haul trucks do roughly 400 miles anywhere between connected regional centers, and local clustered around the regional centers break the loads down for retail delivery, whether urban, suburban or rural. Its a complex mix. And at terminus it can include recently arrived air freight from all over, and offload same.

        Modern technologies calibrate and integrate these hauls by load, distance, arrival / departure intervals, and destination commonalities. Thus overall freight operations are refined down to the tolerates of a fine Swiss watch working to move goods worldwide.

        Thunder Road Article and comments gets into this somewhat. See:

  6. DJRippert Avatar

    McAuliffe ought to hope the Army Corps of Engineers kills the idea. Failing that, he needs to demand big tolls and hope that kills it. Failing that he needs to just kill it.

    What did the Democratic Lt Governor have to say about the road:

    State Sen. Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, called out Gov. Bob McDonnell for his Route 460 “pet project” that might not alleviate transportation issues in Hampton Road like it aims to, calling it a “road for nobody.”

    “Given the tight constraints on our transportation budget, there is no way to justify spending over $1 billion on a road that will get minimal use,” Northam said. “This billion-dollar boondoggle is a slap in the face to commuters sitting in traffic across Virginia.”

    Ralphis is right. Time to kill this pig.

  7. I keep thinking it’s going in the wrong direction because it’s paralleling I-64 rather than heading southwest to connect with I-95 and I-85.

    Any truck heading to I-95 North or I-64 west or I-81 is going to go west on I-64.

    where are the trucks that would use US 460 be heading?

    you’d almost think US 58 would be the proper direction and it probably has less wetlands also.

    there is no true public process on these projects.

    You’d think that a purpose and need would be developed and then you’d see the alternatives considered (of which US 58 might be one), – then compared with pros and cons, costs and benefits… but the process is virtually insular developed somewhere in the bowels of VDOT then they “sell” their internally-developed solutions which leaves many people not truly understanding nor convinced that it’s a soundly developed idea.

    it’s not at all clear why a road that parallels I-64 and runs Northwest towards Richmond offer any real benefit.

    As tollroad news points out -adding lanes to I-65 and tolling them would seem to be the more obvious approach but there was no real public process to demonstrate to the public why the US 460 path is superior to adding lanes to I-64 OR while a southwestern route was not at least considered in the alternatives.

    VDOT continues it’s 1950’s, Robert Moses style of infrastructure planning.

  8. Agree with larryg.. except Robert Moses got projects built.

    VDOT flounders around with half-baked projects like 460 and the Charlottesville bypass, throwing millions around, but not really getting anywhere and creating a bunch of loose ends in the process.

    Does VDOT really think it can just steamroll the ACOE? Even that tyrant Moses probably would’ve agreed to compromise.

    And that 200 million (already out the window)- did that not factor in wetland mitigation?

  9. so VDOT is an incompetent Moses wannabie?


    Both Moses and VDOT tend to believe that when it comes to infrastructure, the public is incapable of understanding and agreeing to act – that “studies” involving the public never end and go on forever.

    And I think there is a certain amount of truth to it.

    but Moses had fundamentally wrong ideas – or at least ideas that people fundamentally disagreed with – like running freeways through CBDs and VDOT seems to get themselves into similar quandaries sometimes.

    Moses would have thought it impertinent for anyone to ask him to actually provide a purpose and need and then to actually develop and present alternatives and go through a cost/benefit/pro/con process involving the public – because he felt he had already done that analysis and knew what the right answer was.

    and he was not totally wrong.. the major issues of our society, education, health care and transportation does not result in collaborative agreement but festering divisiveness.

  10. I think this issue will tell us a lot about our Governor for the next four years. A decision to dump the project would please a lot of people on both the left and the right and also signal he will be a strong steward of the higher taxes, not putting them into “land speculator relief projects.” On the other hand, his past history is fully consistent with the Virginia way of using tax dollars for the benefits of the corporate welfare class.

    I have no prediction as what McAuliffe will do. Heck, he might even find a way to make it look like he’s doing both. But I’ll wait to see before drawing any conclusion.

  11. There is little evidence that McAuliffe has had deep thoughts about vast areas of government including this.

    I could be dead wrong and he is instead a “sleeper”.

    but until then, I think he has “advisors” ( qualified ones) that are “helping” him stake out positions.

    One thing about the position of Govt in Va as DJ has pointed out over and over.. you are never running for a follow-on term. Va is a slam-bam-thank-you-mam governor state.

  12. The CTB should be abolished. I like the idea of citizen input to VDOT, but the CTB does not provide that. Rather, it provides an avenue for special interests to have taxpayer dollars channeled to projects that benefit them.

    Everyone has a right to petition the government for redress of grievances, but not in secret. The CTB needs much, much more transparency.

  13. perhaps important to remember that every organization has multiple people with multiple views running it – and over time the organization itself develops a culture… and the original VDOT – the VDH – Virginia dept of Highways was perceived by both the organization itself – engineers and people outside of it to be essentially a “utility” like a power company or natural gas supplier – that the public did not know.. did not have the capacity to truly understand.

    People can object to the placement of a power pole or the “industrial” look to it but at the end – no one is going to say the downside of the power infrastructure is worse than having the power.

    VDOT/VDH had the same attitude about roads as did Harry Byrd.

    roads were almost always “good”. It was like having the power company decide to route electricity somewhere that previously did not have it.

    Even when we built the interstate system and the beltways and many people lost their land, were displaced or ended up next to them – considered them necessary and worth the eminent domain sacrifices especially if it was someone else!

    All during that time the concept of a “public process” was not mature even though millions of dollars were made by people who had access to information about where interchanges were going to be located and many others lost their land and/or had to move.

    And I’m pretty sure that when Harry Byrd built Virginia’s secondary road system that 1. some people were displaced and 2. others with knowledge about location made money.

    CTB provides meeting notices, allows the public to attend meetings and make public comment, and provides agendas and minutes.

    Not sure if they are that different from VDOT or for that matter most BOS in Va…

    sometimes, we’re suspicious or skeptical (and rightly so) but if someone came to us and said: “you design the “ultimate” public process for CTB would we end up with anything that could be realistically done different from now?

    When CTB members are in their communities … they’re going to meet people and talk to them… Would we advocate something as silly (in my view) as requiring them to keep minutes and transcripts of everyone they talk to?

    I’m not defending the good old boy network.. just trying to think about how you’d put more sunshine on it.

  14. I’ve belonged to a number of civic organizations that requested a local or urban-at-large CTB member meet with the organization to discuss transportation issues. Each and every time, our requests were ignored. I’ve never met with an active CTB member. Now I don’t expect members to be at the public’s beck and call, but I bet that if a couple of big land speculators asked for a meeting, there would be one. To me, that’s similar to a member of the planning commission refusing to talk to a community group on an active land use issue.

    Somehow, there needs to be a record of a meeting that requests or opposes funding for a project. Supporters and opponents alike need to have a chance to weigh in on a proposal. They cannot do that if they don’t know what’s being discussed, when and with whom. It does not seem unreasonable to me to require a landowner, his agent, lobbyist or lawyer to prepare a brief, but fair and accurate summary of a presentation to a CTB member and for the CTB staff to file it online. There should be a civil fine if an accurate summary is not prepared and filed within a specified period of time.

    The public should not expect to be spoon-fed and cannot cry about those who work harder. But if I’m arguing for billions to build the outer beltway and arguing X,Y or Z; or arguing against the same because of P, Q or R, shouldn’t this be in the public record? If there is any controversy about a project, more public debate is better than less.

    The Tysons planning process got better once the supervisors took it away from the Task Force and gave it to the Planning Commission. It did not stop anyone from making arguments, but made the arguments public so others could respond. Why is the CTB’s work different?

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      TMT –

      I suspect this is a holdover legacy of the way things had historically been done in Virginia, including northern Virginia. And that it reflects how such things worked in Fairfax County for much of the second half of the 20th century. Recall that only 50 years ago, at the dawn of its explosive growth, Fairfax county was still much the way it had always been, a close knit rural and small town place by nature and governance as late as 1960.

      Back then county government generally, and land use and transportation in particular, was controlled by the local closely knit bar of lawyers and their business clients and prominent families. With this group so small and tightly knit, a lawyer representing most local business interests was in the process by the nature of things also representing himself too, whether by association, kin, business relation, school chums, partners, brother in law or whatever. Things then went back a long way and were very tight.

      The power of the local bar was compounded by several additional facts. Real estate, its control and development, was by far the most important business in the county. Now suddenly it was everything. And local lawyers were the experts in it or knew who to call by the nature and experience of their legal business in the community. So, unavoidably the real estate bar and its clients played the key roll. In addition judges and other officials who made local land use and development decisions came from and/or were an integral part of this close knit local social and business network.

      At first the county land planning and regulatory departments were totally unprepared, much less empowered to confront, the monstrous wave of development that hit them by surprise. And, for a long time these departments were weak compared to, and indeed dependent upon, the traditional power brokers who made things happen in Fairfax county. So planners did not have the tools or independent power base to develop and control the planning of the tidal wave of growth that flooded the county for decades. Often they had little choice but to do as they were told.

      This goes a long way towards explaining Tyson’s Corner. Nor does it mean of course that things did not change over time. They did.

      All of this was quite natural given the history and circumstances in place. In stark contrast, Arlington county which had developed before and after WW1 in much the same way, changed dramatically and quickly during and after WW11. So Arlington was far more prepared for what happened. Its government, business and community institutions and its citizens and leaders were far more diverse, deeply rooted and broadly skilled so better prepared to deal with what hit them.

      Fairfax by contrast was the Wild West, overwhelmed with the growth hitting it. So planning decisions there were more often based on limited and short term interests of small groups of people. And why not – there was so much going on at the same time that no one mortal could know what exactly was going on and why, until the party was over.

      In the full view of hindsight, Fairfax was lucky to have the many competent, talented, highly skilled and ethics driven people that it did back then.

  15. CTB guys are not trained nor inclined to meet with the public one on one or town hall type meetings.

    Maybe they should have to.

    1. What’s the difference between CTB guys and planning commissioners, park authority board members, etc.? Don’t they all represent portions of the public? They seem ready to meet with developers and road builders.

      1. well, they’re not elected and there are numerous other boards like them in Va that just don’t function like other boards more tuned to the public.

        without being too puckish – the Virginia Way!

      2. I could not resist getting a list of all boards in Virginia:

        the CTB is on that list!

        how many of these boards have members who “meet” with people who have interests in the issues these boards deal with?

        In our county alone, we have 20-30 boards that citizens not only don’t speak or comment but they don’t even know these boards even exist.

        I know folks on these boards and they are pretty solitary affairs with respect to the public showing up.

      3. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        TMT –

        The Commonwealth Transportation Board does not report to you. Nor does it report to everyday citizens. Nor does it have everyday peoples’ interests and concerns in mind. Hence you get the C’ville bypass.

        Best I can tell, the Board is made up of local political players from around the state who are appointed and tasked with getting the Governor’s transportation policy deployed. In large measure this job is defined as handing out transportation monies and decisions to various regions and special interests within the state in return for negotiated favor that takes a variety of forms known only to the players at the table. Very likely, it ain’t pretty, but someone has to do it. Character or the lack of character can always turn most anything into many different shades of gray depending who is sitting around the table.

        Is not this a throwback to the old Byrd Machine, using political favors and back room deals between state and local power players to build political support while sharing money and power and ambition?

        Like Virginia’s Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe said: It is easy raising money for people who are running for Governor, they decide where the roads are to go.

        Now Virginians will see how that plays out for them under the administration of its new governor.

        1. The file I shared showing the boards did not have an “x” in the column signifying that they serve at the pleasure of the governor but from the ones I know they are and Reed is right – they are usually a local politician but they have almost no staff and are almost entirely dependent on VDOT for providing them with data and recommendations.

          I’ve not seen them reject VDOT recommendations.

          But I’d also point out that at the Regional level, most areas like NoVa, and Cville, Richmond, etc have MPOs and they are not direct elected either.

          In other words, citizens do not choose them and cannot elect them so the transportation process – while a political process is not subject to direct involvement of citizens – which is the same situation for the Planning Districts as well as most other commissions and boards (like the MWAA).

          In fact, the only one I’ve actually seen on the ballot are the soil and water commissioners of which almost no one knows.

          School boards in Va are largely elected by citizens but they cannot tax or make budgets without approval by the counties.

          we’re kind of in a vacuum here in BR with respect to governance in Va versus governance in other states. we know there are differences.

          Home Rule and citizen-initiated referenda are two things that SOME (not all) other states have. Other states also have ELECTED road commissions that CAN levy taxes.

          Virginia’s heritage is governance by the gentry…. people like Lord Fairfax and his counterparts including folks like Patrick Henry were statesmen that believed that educated people were needed to govern and that much of the citizenry was not educated therefore not capable of governing.

          you can still “feel” this in many ways… and these appointed and essentially unaccountable boards are an example.

  16. cpzilliacus Avatar

    Peter Samuel in TOLLROADSnews gives Jim a shout-out in an addition to his (Peter’s) story about 460 here.

    1. FYI – I believe Samels sold TollRoad News..

Leave a Reply