The Creature from Stumpy Lake

One of the projects in the Hampton Roads transportation pipeline is the Southeastern Expressway, a 21-mile freeway that will loop south of the developed areas of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, skirt Stumpy Lake and vast wetlands, and deliver traffic to the Virginia Beach shoreline. The project, which would cost in the vicinity of $2.5 billion (in 2014 dollars), would be paid for through a combination of tolls and public moneys from the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority.

Welcome to the Hampton Roads where political and civic leaders prefer extravagant, mega-project solutions to traffic congestion. This particular monster has received only modest public scrutiny. In his article, “The Creature from Stumpy Lake,” Peter Galuszka provides an overview of the project, touching upon the financial, environmental and land use issues it raises.
Backers justify the project on the grounds that it will provide traffic relief. I’m willing to accept VDOT’s contention in the 2005 draft environmental impact statement that traffic conditions are bad and getting worse. The question is what to do about it. Is investing $2.5 billion in a 21-mile freeway through mostly un-developed land the most cost-effective use of resources? That kind of scratch can buy you a lot of spot road improvements, traffic light synchronization, bus service, van pools and other ride-sharing initiatives — especially if coordinated with the development of balanced, mixed-use villages and communities.

The EIS does offer an “improved no-build” alternative consisting of about 45 spot improvements, and concludes that it would not improve travel conditions as much as the Southeast Expressway would. The improved no-build scenario would reduce the number of hours of travel time per day spent in congested traffic by 46,000, as compared to 58,000 hours per day for the Expressway, yielding only 80 percent of the benefit. But the study does not say how much those spot improvements would cost. Would they cost $500 million, $1 billion, $2.5 billion? We don’t know. The draft does not provide the basis for comparing the financial Return on Investment of the alternatives.

Nor does the EIS examine the potential for using congestion pricing on segments of Interstate 64 and 264 as a way to optimize traffic flows and induce people to change their driving behavior. One more flaw: The EIS neglects to explore the impact of the Southeastern Expressway upon human settlement patterns. How much land would it open up for development? How many houses would be built along the new corridor? What would be the impact of more spread-out development on vehicle miles traveled, and what congestion would it cause to local country roads?

Lots of questions and no answers. Hampton Roads is gearing up to make a huge investment. Local leaders had better make sure they know the answers before commiting to one of the most expensive transportation projects in Virginia history.

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3 responses to “The Creature from Stumpy Lake”

  1. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    The SEP is a road going to the wrong place. It dumps into Rt168, which is already getting overstressed due to Chesapeake building out the Hickory area and increased NC migration. The proposed interchange is walking distance to two other major off ramps that lead to the two main streets of Chesapeake. Plus Dominion Blvd empties into the I64-168 interchange. This road is on Congress’s list for an interstate to Raleigh.

    And the SEP will run through areas already being developed with 500+K homes.

    Also, while the EIS claims to have alternative routes, the reality is the alternatives are already filled with houses. The Corps wanted the road to go North of Stumpy. Ain’t gonna happen unless the blank check comes out. So that leaves the south side, where developers are already laying the infrastructure for business centers.

    Growth has made this road obsolete, at least from south of Oceana west to Chesapeake. If they want to build it, they should run it past the OLF in Fentress to Hickory. That’s because Chesapeake apparently has no plans to keep the south end free of development. In fact, there will one day be an interstate running west from Hickory, up to I-64 on the west end. With Oceana going away, it makes more sense to hold off, then plan out the road to encourage economic development areas at Oceana and Fentress. That would provide the large parcels they are always complaining about not having.

    If they build the SEP, rest assured the taxpayers will be paying for another leg further south.

  2. E M Risse Avatar

    Just read Peter’s story.

    This is a perfect example of the real problem with the idea that what is needed to imporve Mobility and Access is more money.

    The Anaconda Plan of the northern part of Virginia’s “transprotation authority” and the Hampton Roads version will put the nail in the coffin of any attempt to evolve functional human settlement patterns.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Any way you slice it improving mobility means more transportation, of whatever sort. More access means having more useful places you can get to.

    Both of those are going to take more money.


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