Tom Warne Report, 21 December 2012
RICHMOND – A new 55-mile highway to be built in southeastern Virginia will help drivers who suffer from some of the worst traffic in the nation. The four-lane highway project has become the target of blunt criticism from some lawmakers who say the corridor between Petersburg and Suffolk is too lightly traveled to be spending so much money on. The new road would run parallel to U.S. 460, which averages between 9,200 to 17,000 vehicles daily. The state estimates that the new tolled highway will not replace the existing free highway, and will initially carry 5,000 to 6,000 cars per day.
The cash-strapped state has recently resorted to using new project funding to fill potholes on state roads, and leaders from more congested region’s say the money could be better spent.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is among the project’s big supporters, who say the highway is an economic development project, which will help the state capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal. Supporters believe the road will spur construction of large freight distribution centers along the route leading to and from the Port of Virginia in Norfolk. They say the deep channels and wide berths of the port could make an attractive destination for huge “post-Panamax” ships expected to start clearing the expanded canal in 2015.
“If you were just to put the blinders on and … look at the traffic data, you’d think, ‘Why on earth would we put $1.4 billion into a new four-lane highway there?” said Dwight Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. “There’s a lot of growth potential, post-Panamax potential.”