Army Corps Gives Thumbs Down to Southeastern Parkway

Wed August 17, 2005 - National Edition

NORFOLK, VA (AP) Citing environmental and practical concerns, the Army Corps of Engineers has given a thumbs down to the proposed Southeastern Parkway and Greenbelt, a move which could sideline the long-awaited project.

If completed, the $1 billion, limited-access toll road linking Virginia Beach and Chesapeake could destroy 243 acres of forested wetlands — more than any highway project in recent state history.

In a letter to state and federal transportation officials, the corps’ Norfolk District questioned whether highway planners could set aside enough wetlands to offset what will be lost through construction.

The lands are valuable because they serve as habitats for animals and provide a natural filtration system for waterways. The proposed highway route could affect nearly 12,000 linear feet of streams in the Gum Swamp and North Landing River watersheds.

“Of primary concern are the very significant direct wetland impacts that will occur,” wrote J. Robert Hume III, chief of the corps district regulatory branch.

Corps officials also questioned whether the amount of traffic eased by the new roadway would warrant the expansive undertaking.

The Southeastern Parkway and Greenbelt would stretch over some 30 miles, creating what some consider a much-needed east-west connection to ease congestion on clogged local roadways.

Its discussion comes amid increasing populations in both cities. For example, Greenbrier, in Chesapeake, and Princess Anne, in Virginia Beach, are expected to have a combined population of over 800,000 people by 2026, up from 625,000 now.

The corps’ letter will be added to comments state and federal transportation officials will weigh as they complete a summary of the project’s costs and benefits.

That summary, due for release in spring 2006, could determine whether officials will proceed with construction.

But project managers with the Virginia Department of Transportation pointed out the corps’ assessment is based on a highway corridor that is 300 feet wide.

The actual corridor will likely be more like 200 feet wide, claiming less of the vital wetlands, project managers said.

Art Collins, executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, said the corps’ issue has less to do with the environment and more to do with an old line engineers have drawn in the sand: They just don’t see the need for the facility.

“This view from the corps is the same one they’ve had for the last 20 years,” he said, calling them, “bound and determined” to kill the project.

“I don’t know how it will end. I’m more concerned about finding money to pay for the project.”