Representatives from nine groups opposed to the new Route 460 have put their names on a letter to governor-elect Terry McAuliffe, calling on him to halt the project immediately.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter, Virginia Conservation Network, The Piedmont Environmental Council, The Coalition for Smarter Growth, Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Program, Partnership for Smarter Growth and Wetlands Watch sent the letter to McAuliffe on Dec. 18.
“The proposed new U.S. Route 460 is one project that does not make sense economically or environmentally, and we agree with your recent statements about the wisdom of halting further spending on this project pending careful consideration of its merits,” the groups wrote.
“We believe the new Route 460 proposal is clearly not in the best interests of the commonwealth, and therefore urge you to take the further step of terminating this project.”
The groups claim the limited-access toll road would run parallel to an existing 460 that is underutilized to begin with, and note the $1.4-billion cost hits taxpayers for almost $1.2 billion while the rest comes from tolls.
Taxpayers will have to pay to maintain both new and existing roads, they say, and the project “would cause significant environmental harm, yet it would do little to address the critical transportation needs of the Hampton Roads region.”
Money earmarked for the project would be better spent on upgrading the existing Route 460, rail in the 460 corridor, Interstate 64 or U.S. Route 58, building the I-564 to I-664 connector, or extending light rail to Virginia Beach, they say.
Also, transportation officials should consider “buying down” the cost of coming tolls on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, the groups write.
The letter goes on to cite a recent sizeable expansion in estimated wetlands impacts, describing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ concerns regarding the environmental cost versus public benefit, as well as mentioning impacts on farms and open space, habitat of endangered species, and air and water quality.
The project would “spur inefficient development along its lengthy route,” the groups wrote.
Arguments for the project proffered by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell, including freight and economic development, traffic and safety, hurricane evacuation and military connectivity, are criticized in the letter.
“Every one of the justifications for the proposed new Route 460 can be more effectively accomplished at lower cost to taxpayers by investing in other alternatives,” the groups state.
Finally, the groups call upon McAuliffe to request the McDonnell administration halt work on the project both ongoing and planned, including engineering, design, and right-of-way acquisition.
“We hope you will agree that this project is unnecessary and would waste scarce resources that should instead be invested in projects that can do far more to address Hampton Roads’ critical transportation needs,” the letter concludes.