HJR 684: U.S. Route 460 Communications
Following opening remarks by
the chairman, two Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) representatives
provided a general update of the U.S. 460 project. Whereas it had originally
been conceived as a single large project, recent significant cut-backs
in the six-year plan and have led to a "de-bundling" of the
one project into a collection of smaller projects. This change of perspective,
plus a decision to carry out a larger share of pre-construction location
and environmental impact studies (EIS) "in house," will permit
the department to move ahead with the projectat least in the location
and EIS phases. In these phases, the department and its consultants will
be looking at (i) enhancements and up-grades to existing U.S. Route 460
(to enhance safety and reduce congestion), (ii) the possibility of constructing
a new facility along a new route, and (iii) improvements to rail facilities
along the U.S. 460 corridor.
VDOT's new "divide
and conquer" strategy will include a "scoping report" that
will (i) identify existing congestion and safety deficiencies in the U.S.
460 corridor and (ii) study locations for a new corridor between Petersburg
and Suffolk. This latter study will most likely require preparation of
a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement for consideration by the federal
Construction of a new facility
would aid development of the ports of Hampton Roads, improve the flow
of truck traffic (particularly to and from the ports), reduce congestion,
and possibly provide a realistic alternative to Interstate Route 64 between
the Richmond Metropolitan Area and Hampton Roads. By the first of the
year, negotiations with Parsons Brinkerhoff (consultants to VDOT) will
probably have reached a stage that will enable the consultants to post
an "intent to proceed." If things keep to schedule, this would
make it possible to complete a final EIS by January of 2006, with a final
record of decision by the federal government by the end of that year.
One of the first stages in preparation
of an EIS is scoping, which involves "resource agencies" (such
as the Army Corps of Engineers and various environmental organizations)
and can involve participation by the general public. If it does, the public
meetings could also be used as opportunities to provide information on
the U.S. 460 project to the public. Meetings of this sort will probably
be held on three consecutive evenings in three locations along the U.S.
Route 460 corridor in March of 2003.
The Department of Rail and Public
Transportation (DRPT) is moving forward with studies comparing the relative
advantages and disadvantages of connecting the Richmond Metropolitan Area
with Hampton Roads via the left or the right bank of the James River,
based on passenger and rail demand modeling. Staff was instructed to prepare
for the chairman's signature a letter to DRPT, VDOT, and other entities
concerned with these rail issues to convey the committee's opinion
that high-speed passenger rail service to Hampton Roads is essential and
that the committee would oppose providing such service south from Richmond
into North Carolina if service to Hampton Roads was not provided as well.
A far-ranging general discussion
of cut-backs in the Commonwealth's highway construction program disclosed
that the current six-year construction plan has no funding for any construction
along U.S. Route 460. Another general discussion ensued, including the
possibility of undertaking the U.S. Route 460 project under the Public-Private
Transportation Act of 1995 (PPTA) or as a "demonstration project"
under the federal highway program scheduled for reauthorization in the
fall of 2003.
Chairman McDonnell announced
his intention to call the next meeting of the committee in March of 2003,
following the scheduled public information meetings. At that time, the
committee will continue its discussion of possibly undertaking the U.S.
Route 460 project under PPTA or as a federal demonstration project. To
assists these discussions, the executive director of the Hampton Roads
Planning District Commission will prepare estimates of the toll required
to finance construction of the U.S. Route 460 project, and committee staff
will research possibilities for waiving various federal regulations that
might impinge upon the project and the financial mechanism used to finance
(and the policy arguments employed to justify) expansion of U.S. Route
460 during World War Two. Staff was also instructed to invite members
of the Commonwealth Transportation Board from Hampton Roads to attend
the Committee's March 2003 meeting.
The Hon. Robert
Alan B. Wambold
Division of Legislative Services
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