The short, troubled life of the U.S. Route 460 Corridor Improvements project apparently has ended. The Virginia Dept. of Transportation this month announced that it will terminate its $1.4-billion design-build contract with US Mobility Partners to build the 55-mile limited-access highway in southeast Virginia.
Contract termination takes effect on June 15, and VDOT hopes to recoup some of the money it paid to the team. "The state will aggressively pursue all options available to do what is best for the public interest," Layne said.
Originally developed as a public-private partnership under former Gov. Robert McDonnell (R), the project aimed to bypass the existing Route 460's small towns, stoplights and speed zones using a tolled express link between Hampton Roads and the I-85/95 corridors, near Petersburg. While touted for its potential value to beach-bound tourists and the military as well as an emergency evacuation route, the new highway mainly was expected to carry heavy commercial trucks serving Virginia's ports.
An absence of interest from investors forced VDOT in 2012 to recast the project with a more conventional funding structure that included state resources and bonds. Residents who favored upgrading the existing Route 460 were highly critical of the project. State and federal environmental agencies also cited concerns about the risk to nearly 500 acres of wetlands.
Concerned about the design-build team having few results to show for the $280 million it received over the project's first 18 months, VDOT halted work in March 2014 to conduct a reassessment. An investigation by the state inspector general into suspected procurement violations found none.
US 460 Mobility Partners spokeswoman Shannon Moody in an email statement noted, "We have been meeting our obligations and have been both accommodating and patient as new project direction has been contemplated. We will continue working diligently with representatives of the Commonwealth to address this new situation."
VDOT now plans to upgrade 17 miles of the 460 corridor near Suffolk to a four-lane divided highway. A draft supplemental environmental impact statement identifies only 52 acres of affected wetlands, with a 41% improvement in safety compared with a no-build alternative.
Estimated to cost between $375 million and $425 million, the plan must still undergo state and federal approval processes, including public-involvement activities. No funding source or schedule for design and construction has been announced.