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Date published: 10/18/2012
RICHMOND--Construction is expected to begin in 2014 on a new $1.4 billion U.S. 460 from Petersburg to Suffolk, with the road opening in 2018.
Drivers would pay $3.69 for cars or $11.72 for trucks to use the 55-mile road, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday ahead of a Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting where the details were to be discussed. The tolls come out to 6.7 cents per mile for cars and 21.3 cents for trucks, collected electronically through E-ZPass to make charging a toll figured to the cent practical.
Toll rates would increase 3.5 percent per year, according to the state's Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships.
The existing U.S. 460 will remain an alternative route without tolls.
Jeffrey C. Southard, executive vice president of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance, said the new four-lane, divided highway could help the rural, economically depressed region in Southside Virginia as well as Hampton Roads.
Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton said the project would provide an alternative for freight movement into and out of the Port of Virginia.
"In addition to its transportation benefits," Connaughton said, "the project will open several mega-sites for manufacturing and distribution centers that will drive economic development and dramatically increase port activity."
The Virginia Department of Transportation will commit up to $930 million in public funding to the project, and the Virginia Port Authority will contribute up to $250 million. The private contractor, US 460 Mobility Partners, will be responsible for arranging the financing, as well as designing and building the road.
The amount of public money in the project will depend on whether the state receives approval from the Federal Highway Administration for $248 million to $341 million in federal loans for the project.
Officials said using public financing should reduce the project's cost and the length of time tolls will have to be charged to pay for it, from 99 years to 40 years.
The state estimates the travel time from Richmond to Norfolk for those south of the James River will be cut by 20 minutes, to 1 hour and 45 minutes.
State Highway Commissioner Gregory Whirley called the project "a great investment in the future," saying that it should put Virginia's ports in a more competitive position once the expanded Panama Canal opens in 2014.
Some aren't as enthusiastic.
"This project is an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars that will cause significant environmental damage," said Trip Pollard with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "It is a boondoggle that is nowhere near the most pressing transportation need for Virginia, or even Hampton Roads."
Pollard and other environmentalists called for improving the existing 460 instead of building a new one.
The state has estimated the project would create 4,000 construction jobs and 14,000 long-term jobs.
A spokesman for 460 Mobility Partners said the consortium expects to use Virginia contractors for "the vast majority" of the project.