When larger ships start passing through a newly widened Panama Canal, Virginia is hoping to get more cargo at its deep Hampton Roads ports, and that cargo will travel by truck or train to other parts of the country. That's why VDOT says we need a new Route 460, but plans submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers show nearly 500 acres of wetlands along 55 miles or road would be lost.
"This is an enormous amount of loss," says Tripp Pollard, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "Actually, this would be the largest single wetlands loss from any transportation project in Virginia since the Clean Water Acts was passed in 1972."
He says the acreage in question serves many natural functions. Wetlands are absolutely essential elements of ecological health and water quality. They provide habitat and help to prevent damage from storms and flooding.
Pollard doesn't buy VDOT's claim that the new road is really needed to accommodate more trucks.
"This is a very speculative rationale as to how much additional freight Virginia would ever see," he says. "We think there will be traffic, and we believe that is a far cheaper, far less destructive alternative."
The price tag for the project is $1.4 billion. SELC has asked the Army Corps to reject Virginia's application to destroy wetlands, and if that doesn't happen, the center says it will call on the Federal Highway Administration to pull the plug — something it has done with other projects that posed an environmental risk.