Archived Story

In the path of progress

Published 10:55am Wednesday, November 13, 2013

MATTHEW A. WARD
SUFFOLK NEWS-HERALD
STAFF WRITER

If state transportation officials overcome environmental concerns, a new 55-mile toll road from Suffolk to Petersburg will change L.A. Brantley Jr.’s life forever.

The 75-year-old farms land in Ivor he says has been in his family since the turn of the last century, starting with his grandfather.

“It will come right through the middle of my home farm, about half a mile from my house,” Brantley said recently, pointing out where he believes the Virginia Department of Transportation’s preferred route will send endless tractor-trailers careening through his peaceful fields.

Brantley says the road would take 50 acres of his land, including 17 acres of cultivation and the balance valuable timber, as well as one house.

He would be reimbursed for his land. And he could harvest the timber before the government got its hands on it. But he’d rather keep his 1,500 acres intact, he says.

“There’s a lot of people, they don’t care about the family farm,” he said. “I’m interested in preserving it just like it is.”

Brantley and others like him are closely monitoring a tense situation that has developed between VDOT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which, under the Clean Water Act, must issue a permit for the road project’s destruction of wetlands.

VDOT has come under fire for advancing its plans despite the corps’ insistence that it provide more convincing proof that the benefit justifies the environmental cost and that any path cut through woods and farmland causes the least amount of damage possible.

Late last month, the Southern Environmental Law Center jumped on new information released by VDOT showing the road’s design corridor would impact about 3-1/2 more acres of wetlands — 474 — than previously thought.

According to Trip Pollard, a senior attorney with the center, the “shocking” new estimate, taken together with the project’s other perceived flaws, “now completely overwhelm its limited benefits.”

The corps and the Environmental Protection Agency were concerned about wetlands even before the new estimate, and losses would be more than several other transportation projects scrapped due to wetlands concerns, he noted.

VDOT and the corps disagree on why wetlands impacts have increased. Estimates, first calculated with aerial National Wetlands Inventory maps and “limited ground verification,” were revised up because the corps changed what it considers a wetland as well the methodology for calculating impacts, VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said.

Also, she added, US Mobility Partners conducted further field analysis after being selected as the project’s private partner in October 2012. “The footprint of the project hasn’t changed,” she said.

Alice Allen-Grimes, the corps’ Route 460 project manager, said an update to the federal agency’s manual for identifying wetlands results in a “very small percentage of change.”

“The initial wetlands impacts were based on the National Wetlands Inventory Maps, which are very broad and often not on target,” she said. “We are still not sure what transpired between 2005” — when, she says, the corps told VDOT it needed to supplement maps with ground studies — “and 2012.”

A portion of the $192 million of taxpayers’ money spent on the project so far went to gathering information for the permit application that the private partner lodged with the corps Sept. 30, Rollison said.

At the very least, to assess whether the new road meets the public interest test, the corps now requires a supplement to the environmental impact statement, to document the increase in wetlands impacts, the effects of tolling and making it an interstate-style limited-access road — both additions to the original, publicly exhibited plans — and why the earlier alternative of improving the existing road doesn’t meet the project’s purpose and need, Allen-Grimes said.

VDOT has changed its original proposal for the existing 460 alternative, which the corps stressed could be an environmentally friendlier option, from a widening to five lanes to expanding the road to eight lanes.

With combining tolling and free access — a key part of the project — and adding bypasses around communities like Brantley’s Ivor, it now reports that remodeling the existing road would destroy more wetlands and cost twice as much — $2.8 billion — than building a new road alongside it.

“They have indicated that the alternative in the original EIS of improving the existing road doesn’t meet the purpose and need, (but) we need to document why it doesn’t and what has changed,” Allen-Grimes said.

R.M. Felts Jr., another Ivor local whose farmland would be cut in half, says he sees the need for the new road.

“I’ve lived here all my life and been driving the road for 50-plus years, and it’s a very dangerous road,” Felts said.

“We need the road, but I hate to see it come through my property; it’s going to be a major impact on the life we have known.”

No right-of-way acquisitions have yet been authorized, according to Rollison. VDOT says remodeling and tolling the existing road would potentially mean up to 364 residential and 20 business relocations, nearly quadruple that of its preferred new road.

Virginia’s outgoing governor, Bob McDonnell, has pushed the project, saying it will maximize benefit to the commonwealth from the Port of Virginia, provide an evacuation route for Hampton Roads, be a strategic asset for the military, and take trucks off the existing 460, improving safety.

Traveling the entire road when it opens in 2018 will cost cars $3.69 and trucks $11.72, VDOT says. The existing 460 would provide a free alternative.

“The wetlands impacts will continue to change and will get significantly lower as the design progresses,” Rollison said.

Allen-Grimes is not so bullish. “The more impact, the more benefit should be apparent,” she said. “We have a ways to go in looking at the benefit of this project.”

Standing in his field skirted by the woods he played in as a boy, Brantley hopes some kind of miracle stops the road from bisecting his land.

“I haven’t slept for the last two years worrying about this damn mess,” he said. “It just changes my way of life. I wouldn’t be surprised if I see my daddy come up here out of the cemetery when they start on this road.”

  • rdarden

    Very good information Second Opinion. I am opposed to the Highway 460 project as well. In my opinion, this has more local environmental impact than the OLF issue. The people of Southampton,Sussex, and IOW will lose in this proposal.

    Next, Im sure the City Of Suffolk leaders in their infinite wisdom, will pull a deal such as this to lessen the traffic burden they have helped to manifest on Route 58. Suffolk officials have allowed Route 58 to become a mess at the expense to those like myself, who use the road daily to travel to work. The latest addition to this busy and dangerous roadway is the construction of the new elementary school outside of Holland.

    A real brain-trust the Suffolk leaders are.

    I pray that the Army Corps of Engineers will prevail, but like most government Public-Private partnership dealings, we the people are the ones who get screwed.

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  • Second Opinion

    The 460 project is and only will be an intermodal freight route. All other proposed , supposed, or speculated use is press release fodder.

    What is the need for this road: The port of Norfolk is in competition for east coast intermodal freight. It is in a battle with the ports of Baltimore (Maryland)and Savannah (Georgia). This is a STATE grab for port income. The port of Norfolk generates TEN PERCENT of state revenue.

    What is up for grabs:

    port fees for the offloading and on loading of about 8,000 containers a day. Yes, a DAY.

    What thievery has happen so far: The Port Authority has stolen taxation revenue from the city of Portsmouth, the transportation board has set up a bogus NON-PROFIT bonding company to issue revenue bonds for the project using STATE TAXPAYER money to repay the bonds at very profitable rates. The project has stolen valuable life time hours from land owners who are fighting to protect the invasion of project ANALISY who just show up on their property, unannounced and uninvited, to probe ,dig, bore, trample over crops by foot or equipment, cut paths through timberlands to get to the next” Evaluation” site, pure and plain nuisance TRESPASS.

    Who benefits: Top of list, the Crown of Spain. The true face of 460 Mobility Partners and its sister project companies. The city of Suffolk through its past 7 years of infrastructure building along the “Commerce Corridor”, The County of Isle of Wight with infrastructure building in the industrial park and the sister Norfolk Southern 800 acre adjoining site. The County of Prince George, with infrastructure building of warehousing, rail yards and factories

    What is the significance of Ivor? It is the mid-point of the project for materials and construction phasing. From the Blackwater River crossing in Zuni to the Sussex County line, Ivor (route 616 “Ivor Road/ Main Street”)is the ONLY access road/ point to the project, actually the only point between route 258 in Windsor and route 32 in Wakefield. So Ivor will be the worn out path to the path of progress.

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  • http://www.blackwaternottoway.com Jeff Turner

    Put the money into fixing bridges and real existing (not predicted) traffic problems, put the freight on trains and call it a day. CSX and Norfolk Southern would love to take that. Infrastructure already in place, more economical to ship, less 18 wheelers on the rd.,less pollution, less traffic deaths…..

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  • bobs94

    Put up some Jersey walls and call it a day. Is it really that hard to understand?

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  • http://www.blackwaternottoway.com Jeff Turner

    Here is what I think is crazy. The state is already paying millions for work to be done on that project WITHOUT the okay of USACE. In other words, they do not have an okay to start construction, but they are gambling that it will be signed off on and are going ahead with work that does not need permits. If this ridiculous 460 project is not given the green light, ALL that money is gone. Money that could have been used for lots of other much more needed funding, like schools and teachers for example.

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    • Liberty With Responsibility

      Jeff–that should tell us that they already know the outcome of the request. The whole process is a sham, and they know it. If they read these online comments, you just know they are chuckling with each other at the coffee pot, thinking how innocent and naive we “little people” are to be questioning their actions and the logic of what we have posted here. They are not “crazy”—they know EXACTLY how the “process” works. Just like Obamacare—the people are being led down a bread crumb trail, and no one can stop the coming train wreck we all can see that will damage us (except for the ones who will make money off the deal[s]).

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    • broman

      Thanks for that info Jeff. I agree with oldbones and Liberty, I ride it twice a month from 10 to noon and there is no congestion, even with the Food Lion trucks and a county cop every 5 miles.

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    • broman

      sorry – olbones :)

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  • Liberty With Responsibility

    “the road’s design corridor would impact about 3-1/2 more acres of wetlands”

    See how the TN makes the story appear less destructive by an innocent typo? Hey, it’s only an error in calculation by 3 1/2 acres of wetlands—no big deal, right? Who edits this thing?

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  • olbones

    I ride 460 going to Hopewell to work everyday, and after 9 oclock at night I don’t pass 50 cars between Ivor and hwy 156, so please tell me why we need to build this damn road !!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    • Liberty With Responsibility

      Yeah, me, too! A previous TN story stated how the new road was needed because “traffic” was such a problem. Please.

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    • mbrya023

      I can see 460 out of the window of my house and, unless there is road work, there is NEVER any type of traffic back up. But, hey, we are just a small agricultural community. That makes us unimportant in the eyes of the rest of the US. I mean, why would they want to concern themselves with the people who are growing their food and textiles.

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  • JOHN

    Just more of the government(v-dot) doing whatever they feel is need in the name of progress. Destroying the American Farm as they go. He will be reimbursed, i am sure that will be a joke. The people they TAKE land from will have to take what they offer- end of story. And they get to destroy the wetlands as they see fit. I dumped a load of pine logs in the swamp (wetlands to them) on MY property and i was told by the county i had 14 days to remove them or it would be a $10,000 a day fine after that. V-Dot gets to Destroy at will.

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    • Liberty With Responsibility

      hey, just another example of the government does what the hey they want to do. YOU just be sure YOU don’t try it, cause your’re not special, like them. Same as cops hauling a– on our highways with no lights or siren on, but YOU better not speed, or that SAME cop will write you a charge ticket! Hypocrites!

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  • mbrya023

    If they further widen 460 then it will be literally going over my home. So no matter what they do, people are going to be displaced. My home has also been in my family since it was built, so I think what we see here is that we need to leave well enough alone. No one is going to win in this situation except whomever is paid to build this road. The world does not always get to progress at the detriment to our small agricultural communities despite what those in the government seem to think. We need political leaders who speak out in our defense, not just drive by and honk their horn while going 60 miles an hour. We have to keep fighting!

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  • MyHometown

    While I understand the benefits of such a project for all of the items mentioned in the article, I am glad to see that there is a part of the formula that addresses impact verses need. We have 64 to the north, 58 to the south, and 460 in the middle. I should think that this would suffice for the traffic that comes out of Norfolk and Portsmouth’s ports. There are also several sets of train tracks coming out of these areas to transport goods.

    How does the area in between benefit? The cities that will be connected will see increased jobs and tax revenue. Towns, farms, neighbors, and families will be cut off. Fire, police, and other emergency services will be delayed and inconvenienced and chool bus routes and travel in general will be lengthened due to cutting off routes. How about if this goes through some of that revenue should be shared with the localities that made it possible? I personally don’t want to see it because of the environmental impact that it will have on the localities but if you are going to destroy part of the state to benefit another then there should be some financial benefit/sharing to the localities affected. As it stands, the areas in between pay the price for the benefit of the others.

    I can not see any benefit to the areas where this hwy will cross. Only headache and heartache!

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