460 Project Advances to Design Phase, Concerns about Terminus Remain
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Dec 14, 2012, 13:11
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Prince George resident, Guy Sotomayor, explains his concerns about the new US 460 to Morteza Farajian, program manager in Virginia’s Office of Transportation Public Private Partnerships.
Next week, Virginia will sign a comprehensive agreement with US 460 Mobility Partners, the private partner selected to finance, design and build a new and improved Rt. 460. The new road will be a 55 mile, four-lane divided highway, with tolls set at 6.8 cents per mile for cars and 21 cents per mile for trucks.
The Hopewell-Prince George Chamber of Commerce hosted an update meeting on the 460 Corridor Improvements project at the ACE Hardware Facility, just a short distance from the location that will serve as the Western terminus for the new road.
“There are critical needs for the project,” said Morteza Farajian, program manager in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships as he addressed the group at ACE Hardware. “The most important one is safety.”
The high level of fatal accidents that occur on the existing Rt. 460 in the county has long been a subject of concern for the Prince George County Board of Supervisors, which has pushed to see a lowered speed limits and other measures taken to limit accidents on the roadway. Five minutes after the meeting began, the Prince George Police Department sent out an advisory warning motorists that an accident had closed the East bound lanes of 460.
“Safety is one of the main issues for the road and that’s one of the critical needs and one of the main benefits that we’re going to get from the new 460,” Farajian said, describing the current situation, which mixes freight and local traffic in the heart of small towns scattered along the route.
Farajian also described the positive economic impact a project that will decrease travel times on Rt. 460 by an estimated 20 to 25 minutes is expected to have on the region, which is home to a number of distribution centers for major companies.
“The Port of Virginia will be connected to the interstate highway system,” he said.
A study conducted by Chmura Economics estimated that by 2010, the construction of a new Rt. 460 will have a positive, annual economic impact of $7.3 billion.
Construction of the new road is also expected to provide increased hurricane evacuation capabilities, accommodate increased freight movement and connect military installations in the Hampton Roads region with those in the Richmond area.
During the two year procurement process, which will conclude next week, local officials and citizens of Prince George County have raised concerns that the plans for the new road, as they currently exist, will damage the town of New Bohemia by routing traffic from the new 460 onto the old 460 less than a mile before the road crosses paths with I-295.
Instead, the board of supervisors and residents have pushed VDOT to consider a plan that would connect the new highway directly with I-295.
At Thursday’s meeting Guy Sotomayor, a county resident who has been following the development of the project closely, called the plan as it currently exists “insanity.”
Addressing concerns about the terminus, Farajian said that the current design is not final.
“It’s all conceptual design,” he said. “In the future, we are going to have design hearings, we are going to work on design, we are going to refine the design. It’s a complex project and it just takes some steps to get to the point where we can call the design final design.”
Farajian said that at this point in the process, the design is only 25 to 30 percent complete. Any final design will be subject to VDOT’s approval, which will be granted or denied based on further studies and analysis conducted during the “detailed design phase.”
“We have not promised to make any change and we are not in a position to promise to make any change today,” Farajian said.
He said that the existing conceptual design submitted by the various private groups was created for the purpose of pricing and procurement, but is still subject to change.
“What I’m trying to say is we have not closed the door,” he said. “...To the extent that we can work with you and come up with better solutions, we will.”
The process of developing a detailed design will begin next week, immediately after the contract is signed, Farajian said. He said that by the end of 2013, the project will be at a point to begin purchasing right of way. Construction is slated to begin in mid 2014 and end in late 2017.
“It’s a tough schedule” Farajian said, in response to a question. “It’s achievable though.”
The project is expected to cost $1.369 Billion for design and construction, with 460 Mobility Partners taking on much of the risk associated with delivering the project at a fixed cost by a fixed date.
Public funding from VDOT will account for approximately $930 million of the project, while the Virginia Port Authority will contribute $213 million. Net receipts from tax exempt bonds are expected to account for $216 million.
Farajian said the the Commonwealth has submitted a letter of interest to the federal governments Transportation Infrastructure and Investment Act (TIFIA) program and hopes to secure low interest loans for the project. If it is successful in doing so, the contributions from VDOT and the Port Authority will will decrease.
Under the agreement that will be signed next week, US 460 Mobility Partners will design and build the project, a process that will be overseen by VDOT. Once construction is complete, the new highway will be turned over to the state department for operation and maintenance.
The not for profit Route 460 Corridor Funding Corporation of Virginia will issue the tax exempt bonds that will partially fund the project and will also set toll rates and collect those fees. Currently, toll rates are slated to increase by 3.5 percent every year, a figure that takes inflation into account.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Morteza Farajian explained the current state of the project to those attending the Hopewell-Prince George Chamber of Commerce sponsored meeting near Rt. 460.
“After we sign the contract next week, we will be at the end of the procurement...but we will be at the start of another important phase of the project, which is design and construction,” Farajian said.
Speaking after the meeting, Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft said the county will continue to communicate with VDOT about its concerns related to the new highway’s terminus.
“This is just the beginning of a process,” Farajian said during the meeting.