It’s crunch time for Virginia Beach light rail

Over the past several months, I’ve been blogging about the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study and the developments, updates, and yes…even monkey wrenches that have been thrown into the process. Now, things are coming down to the wire as the Virginia Beach City Council debates what decision they will make for the proposed extension of The Tide Light Rail into their city limits.

A recap of what’s at stake

Around this time last year or so, Virginia state officials proposed paying for roughly half of the costs (up to $155 million dollars) to extend the Tide to Town Center. The city of Virginia Beach would then be required to pick up the remainder (roughly $130 million) of the costs. Since this deal was announced, Virginia Beach city leaders have been debating as to whether to formally accept the state proposal and move forth with building the light rail extension, or whether to put the brakes on the extension study altogether. If the deal is declined, the one-time fund being offered by the state would vanish.

Also still on the table, even if the state deal is accepted, is a controversial maglev rail proposal that some city officials really like. Moving forward with that plan would require a redundant transfer to two completely different modes of rail transport. The same private company that has been pitching the maglev corridor to Virginia Beach officials, American Maglev Technology, is part of a consortium trying to bring a maglev corridor to the city of Orlando, FL.

All the while, fiscal conservatives have been questioning whether any rail extension is even worth it. And some forces, which I’ll explain more in a moment, have already banded together to ensure that the eastern light rail terminus remains at the Virginia Beach city limits.

Study update public hearings set for April and May

Hampton Roads Transit, the regional transit authority that operates the Tide, as well as local, express, and shuttle bus services, as well as paratransit van services, has announced four public hearings to go over the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the transit extension study. These hearings will be held on the following dates/times at the following locations:

Monday, April 13, 2015, 6-7:30pm
Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library
4100 Virginia Beach Blvd.
Virginia Beach, VA 23452
Served by Route 20

Thursday, April 16, 2015, 6-7:30pm
Linkhorn Park Elementary School
977 First Colonial Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23454
Served by Route 29

Monday, April 20, 2015, 6-7:30pm
ODU-NSU Higher Education Center
1881 University Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23453
Served by Routes 25 and 33

Saturday, April 25, 2015, 11am-12:30pm
Renaissance Academy
5100 Cleveland Street
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
1 block from Route 20

Please attend these meetings if you can.

For those not able to make it to the hearings, you can still send in your comments to HRT. Please be sure to address your envelop as follows:

Hampton Roads Transit

c/o Marie Arnt

509 E. 18th St.

Norfolk, VA 23504

Decision Day is fast approaching for the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) selection

May 8 is currently set as the date that city council members must come to a decision on the Locally Preferred Alternative (or LPA). The selection of the LPA means that more thorough engineering work and cost analyses can be performed. In addition, the selection of the LPA allows for HRT to build a Final Environmental Impact Statement (or FEIS). The council has the option to stick with the Town Center proposal brought forth by the state, carry out one of the three original options (Rosemont, Oceanfront via Norfolk Southern Railway Corridor, Oceanfront via Laskin Rd), move towards a Bus Rapid Transit corridor instead of light rail, or simply do nothing (the dreaded “No Build” option). If the “No Build” option is chosen, the transit extension study will cease.

Note: Due to federal funding requirements and constraints, it is highly unlikely that either of the proposals to bring light rail to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront will move ahead at this time.

Additionally, the city is trying to craft the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, and transportation funding is on the line. The city council is scheduled to vote on the budget May 12. Information can be found at: http://www.vbgov.com/government/departments/budget-office-management-services/budget-archives/Pages/fy2015-16.aspx – Among the budget proposals is a possible property tax increase to pay for more city services, including the light rail extension (if it is decided to move along with the proposal).

On Thursday, April 16, Virginia Beach City Council members Ben Davenport, Bob Dyer and Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond will host a town hall meeting to discuss the proposed city budget. This meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Kempsville High School, 5194 Chief Trail in Virginia Beach, 23464. A Facebook Event has been set up by the folks who run the Bring the Tide to Virginia Beach social media accounts.

Two public hearings are scheduled on the following dates/times at the following locations:

Thursday, April 23, 6 p.m.

Green Run High School

1700 Dahlia Drive

Virginia Beach, VA 23453

April 28, 6 p.m.

Virginia Beach City Council Chambers

2401 Courthouse Drive

Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Please attend these meetings if you can.

Rail haters threaten to derail the effort

Just like here in Tampa, FL, Hampton Roads has its own flock of rail haters who clearly do not want the region to have any transportation choices. Many of these haters are composed of staunch Tea Party conservatives who would rather see the region continuing to subsidize and toll roads while forcing transit to decline and eventually be privatized. Many of these same people are also against “True” Bus Rapid Transit, but might not mind so much mixed traffic “BRT Lite” like HART’s MetroRapid. From what I’m hearing as of late, the rail haters have been out in full force drowning city officials’ voicemails with angry messages stating that they don’t want any rail proposal to move forward.

My question here is; why is it always that these rail haters are getting prime loudspeaker time? It’s time for us transit advocates and supporters to step up to the plate and make it loud and clear that we want transportation choices for Hampton Roads. If we let this opportunity for the state to partially fund this extension pass by, then the entire region stands to be set back 30 to 50 years, or even more, when it comes to being able to build a robust transit system. Because what the rail haters fail to realize, is that by killing the Virginia Beach light rail study, they’re also jeopardizing the fate of the Naval Station Norfolk light rail study, and similar efforts to bring light rail into Hampton, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake.

Get Involved

So I ask everyone in Hampton Roads to get involved in supporting the Virginia Beach light rail extension and send a clear message across the region that we want better transportation options and will not back down to demands from the rail haters to give up and walk away. I strongly encourage everyone to please attend the upcoming meetings and to let your elected officials know that you care. Additionally, I ask everyone, whether you’re a Virginia Beach resident or not, to please contact city officials. Please let them know why extending the Tide is so important for not just Virginia Beach, but for Hampton Roads as a region. Also, please spread the word to friends, family members, and colleagues about the transit extension study, why its so important to extend the light rail line, and to attend the upcoming meetings and contact Virginia Beach city leaders.

Below, I’ve listed the names and contact information for each of the Virginia Beach city council members, the mayor, and the vice mayor. I want to thank the folks who run the Bring the Tide to Virginia Beach social media accounts for getting this information out there. The contact info is also listed on the Virginia Beach municipal government website.

Mayor William D. Sessoms, Jr.
January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2016
Office:(757) 385-4581
wsessoms@VBgov.com

Vice Mayor Louis R. Jones – Bayside
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2018
Work:(757) 583-0177
Home:(757) 464-2151
lrjones@VBgov.com

Benjamin Davenport – At Large
January 1, 2015 to December 31,2018
bdavenpo@vbgov.com

Bob Dyer – Centerville
January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2016
Home:(757) 467-3130
bdyer@VBgov.com

Barbara M. Henley – Princess Anne
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2018
Home:(757) 426-7501
bhenley@VBgov.com

Shannon DS Kane – Rose Hall
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016
Work:(757) 802-3236
skane@vbgov.com

John D. Moss – At Large
January 1, 2015 to December 31,2018
Home:(757) 363-7745
mossjohn@cox.net

Amelia N. Ross-Hammond- Kempsville
January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2016
Home:(757) 646-1709
ahammond@VBgov.com

John E. Uhrin – Beach
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2018
Work:(757) 200-7005
juhrin@VBgov.com

Rosemary Wilson – At Large
January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2016
Home:(757) 422-0733
rcwilson@VBgov.com

James L. Wood – Lynnhaven
January 1, 2015to December 31, 2018
Work:(757) 340-8411
Fax:(757) 498-6324
jlwood@VBgov.com

The street address for all members of Council is:
2401 Courthouse Drive
City Hall, Building #1
Municipal Center
Virginia Beach, VA 23456

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4 thoughts on “It’s crunch time for Virginia Beach light rail”

    1. See, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Rail haters like yourself and Betsy don’t think any light rail line is doable. Rail haters like the both of you also tend to believe that all these transit routes don’t relieve congestion. And…many rail haters also believe that transit ridership across the US (outside of cities like New York) is plummeting. All of this to try and convince people that transit MUST be privatized in order to “save the taxpayers from these rail boondoggles”. REALLY?

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