A different idea for 460

Published 12:49 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A recently released study calls for making improvements along the existing Route 460, with fewer impacts and less expense than the controversial northern bypass around the town of Windsor being proposed by VDOT. 

The study proposes modifications to VDOT’s Alternative 4 — fixing up the existing highway, as well as offers a solution for the town’s vexing six-way intersection.

The study, prepared by Transportation Planning Consultant Walter Kulash and commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center, concludes that its alternative is cheaper than the estimated cost of VDOT’s proposed northern bypass by more than $140 million, said Windsor Mayor Rita Richardson.

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The study is the result of action taken last year by the Windsor Town Council, which has consistently opposed the Route 460 northern bypass currently proposed by VDOT. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Kulash’s study calls for a center turn lane rather than the 16-foot raised median in the portion of existing highway that runs through the town of Windsor, as proposed by VDOT’s Alternative 4.

The center turn lane would allow cars to access businesses along Route 460 and result in less impact on historic properties, according to Kulash.

Richardson is concerned that VDOT’s plan to put a median in the middle of Route 460 in the town would cause motorists to make U-turns to get to businesses and therefore be a traffic hazard.

In addition to a center turn lane, Kulash’s plan calls for narrower vehicle lanes, and ultimately half of the wetlands impacts in VDOT’s Alternative 4, which are minimal, and far less than the 40 acres impacted in VDOT’s plan for a 12-mile northern bypass, Richardson said.

As for the six-way intersection, Kulash proposes realigning South Court and Church streets and making it a conventional four-way intersection with one signal. The plan would also create a partial roundabout and a town center park adjacent to Route 460. The Southern Food and gas station would be moved to the southeast corner of Route 460 and South Court Street, according to Kulash.

Kulash also proposes keeping VDOT’s plans for sidewalks and tree plantings, but make the area narrower to accommodate the center turn lane.

Finally, Kulash’s plan does not require taking any right-of-way from historical properties — in contrast to VDOTs plan which calls for taking at least 14 contributing properties in the Windsor Historic District and at least two properties eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The study, as well as comments from the Southern Environmental Law Center, was submitted to VDOT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Law Center has been an outspoken opponent to VDOT’s changing plans for Route 460.

Meanwhile, VDOT defends its work on the project.

“Our work to find the right solution is the result of a year-long exhaustive collaborative effort of thousands of hours of professional engineering work, technical environmental studies and intensive on-site data collection,” said VDOT spokeswoman Paula Miller.

“We stand by the results (that show) the lowest corridor crash rate, maximum evacuation capacity, greatest time travel savings and the most effective new route for freight,” she said.

Trip Pollard, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, disagrees.

The Law Center has argued for more than a decade that the best solution would be to improve the existing 460 corridor, but VDOT has said repeatedly that it wouldn’t work. So the Law Center hired an engineer who found it could work, Pollard said.

The Law Center contends that the northern bypass is not the least environmentally damaging option — a requirement for permitting by the Corps of Engineers.

The northern bypass also negatively impacts hundreds of acres of forest and farmland, according to comments submitted to the Corps by the Law Center. 

Richardson also criticizes the northern bypass plan because improvements stop at Zuni in terms of an alternate evacuation route.

If the plan is to get evacuees to Zuni, then flooding beyond Ivor would keep those individuals from getting further, leading to unmanageable backups, Richardson said.

After Hurricane Floyd, that section of Route 460 was one of the last areas to drain, she said.

Pollard said he’s followed up with the Corps to discuss Kulash’s plan, but hasn’t heard of any decisions since.

VDOT’s proposed Route 460 improvement runs 17 miles from the Route 460/58 interchange in Suffolk to just west of Zuni. It includes the 12-mile northern bypass around the town of Windsor as well as a bridge across the Blackwater River.

It is an evolution of a project that once spanned 55 miles from Petersburg to Suffolk and included building an entirely new limited access tolled highway south of the town of Windsor. Excessive wetlands impacts, as well as changing state transportation priorities, derailed that particular plan.

In response, VDOT proposed several alternatives and settled on the northern bypass around the town of Windsor.

Earlier this year, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors dropped its support of the northern bypass after VDOT failed to include requested interchanges and failed, in the county’s view, to communicate and cooperate with local officials.

If the project does receive a permit from the Corps of Engineers, it must still be scored under House Bill 2, a new system of rating transportation projects across the state. HB 2 attempted to remove political considerations from roads projects and instead rate them on a more objective basis.



Plan highlights

Highlights of the Walter Kulash plan for a modified Alternative 4. Alternative 4 was one of five alternatives presented in 2014 after plans for the initial 55-mile highway was cancelled. VDOT’s Alternative 4 called for making improvements to the existing Route 460, and which included a 16-foot center median.

•A continuous center turn lane along the portion of Route 460 that runs through the center of Windsor for ease of access

•Narrower vehicle lanes, which would provide minimal impact on wetlands and historic buildings. It would require substantial taking or replacement of structures on four commercial properties.

•Sidewalks and tree plantings for pedestrian access and a town center appeal.

•A solution to Windsor’s six-way intersection that calls for creating a four way, one signal intersection through realignment and a partial roundabout.  {/mprestriction}