In a win for environmental groups that opposed a new highway project, the Virginia Department of Transportation has ordered its contractor to stop all work on the proposed U.S. Route 460 until federal environmental review can be completed.
Permit applications submitted by the department in the fall showed that the project, which connects the Hampton Roads area with Petersburg, would impact nearly 480 acres of wetlands, a number far greater than originally estimated.
The Southern Environmental Law Center wrote a letter to the Federal Highway Administration asking that work on the 55-mile stretch of new highway be halted while the new information was reviewed. The SELC has summarily opposed the project across the Southeast corner of the state as not worth its environmental impact and not better than the alternative of improving the existing Interstate 64 from Suffolk to Petersburg.
Trip Pollard, a senior attorney with SELC, has called the new road an unnecessary, “$1.4 billion boondoggle.”
He said in a statement last week that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration took a step in the right direction by halting the project, which was most recently backed by former governor Bob McDonnell’s administration.
“The administration seems to be taking a hard look at this project, and the more you look the less there is to like,” Pollard said in the statement.
Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane said during a press conference on Friday that environmental issues with the route led to his decision.
“I wished we would have reached a conclusion before now that we should have done what we’re doing now, but we are where we are,” Layne told reporters at the news conference, according to the Associated Press.
The decision to halt the project comes in part because of uncertainty about its ability to secure permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, given new information about its environmental impact.
The state has already spent about $300 million on design and other permit costs and will save about $35 million a month over the next year by suspending contractor work, according to the Associated Press.
The environmental review process is expected to take about a year.
Layne said the state remains committed to a U.S. 460 project in some form but will make a decision on the shape that road will take once the review is completed.
Read our earlier story for more background about the proposed route’s impact on wetlands and why it’s been opposed.