RICHMOND, Virginia — Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a $149 million settlement Thursday with the builders of a failed toll road project that would have paralleled the existing U.S. 460 from Suffolk to Petersburg.
The governor announced that the road's builder, US 460 Mobility Partners, had agreed to repay the state $46 million and forgo claims to an additional $103 million as part of the settlement. With the settlement, taxpayers will ultimately pay the builders $210 million and $50 million to bondholders. The Virginia Department of Transportation has spent $42 million on the project as well, leaving taxpayers on the hook for more than $300 million for a project that did not produce a single inch of new road.
The cancelled toll road was supposed to be a landmark achievement for former Gov. Bob McDonnell, whose administration pushed hard on the deal. But McAuliffe stopped work on the planned $1.4 billion, 55-mile highway last year after it became clear the road might not get permits it needed from the federal government over concerns about wetlands. In April of this year, VDOT gave notice of plans to terminate the contract.
"This settlement will bring millions in taxpayer dollars that were wasted on the U.S. Route 460 project back to taxpayers and prevent the Commonwealth from having to pay millions more," McAuliffe said in a statement. "While this is a positive development, the fact remains that Virginians have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a project that will never be built because state officials negotiated a contract that left the commonwealth holding the bag when the environmental risks were too great to move forward."
A spokesman for the governor said that part of the $42 million spent by VDOT could be used on an alternate version of a new U.S. Route 460. In January, VDOT and the Army Corps of Engineers identified a preferred alternative route that upgrades much of the existing U.S. 460 that could make it through the permitting process.
In response to the 460 boondoggle, lawmakers passed a measure that aims to tighten controls on how Virginia finances public-private transportation projects. The failed 460 project has also made the McAuliffe administration skeptical about using a public-private partnership to put express toll roads on Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway, a position that has upset several Republican lawmakers.