The Virginia Beach City Council passed an ordinance on Tuesday to begin research on expanding The Norfolk Tide light rail system into Virginia Beach. The ordinance addressed issues of financial planning and rider research for The Tide. Hampton Roads officials think it necessary and wise to take the newest form of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) and expand it into nearby cities as an alternative mode of transportation to the bus, taxi or personal vehicle.
For those who are unfamiliar with The Tide light rail system: it is a 7.4 mile long above ground, city train. As it stands now, it runs from the Eastern Virginia Medical Center on Brambleton Ave., through much of Downtown Norfolk, to Newtown Rd. It was opened in August of 2011 and functions in accordance with the HRT transportation systems.
The ordinance, set out on Election Day, saw that over 60% of rail riders want to see the system expanded into Virginia Beach. The projected ideas are for the tide to either run out to the Town Center portion of the city or all the way out to the Oceanfront. Also discussed in the plans was a possible expansion as far as Hilltop. Expansion plans will depend on available funding from the local and state levels.
The main idea behind the expansion is that the majority of Tide traffic can be seen at the Newton terminal where many Beach residents access the service. Council members think, and many people agree, that this is a much needed project.
“I hate having to drive that far to go shopping or to the beach,” said senior Kerry Johnson. “I would love to be able to get to those areas for next to nothing.”
Those who are not the minority side of the issue see different issues with the expansion. Freshmen David Derenske said, “I never use the Tide,” said freshman David Derenske. “I’m in the down town area pretty often, especially during the summer time for Tides games, and I think it’s more of an obstruction. The traffic there was already pretty bad and between the rush hour traffic and the narrow streets I just think it’s kind of unsafe.”
These are not the only waves being caused by The Tide. While the Virginia Beach expansion is the main focus of the area, local rumors are spreading that there are plans to take The Tide and expand it to the local naval base located in Norfolk. Weather it is fact or myth, it’s an idea that has brought some new opinions to light.
“My feelings are mixed about that. On the one hand it might cut down on traffic to and from the military base,” said sophomore Casey King. “But on the other, there is already enough traffic in that area with all the shipping, trucking and train activity. This might just add to the problem. I see it all the time when I have to be over by ODU for something.”
A study by the Old Dominion University Social Science Research Center brought fourth other major issues for future debate about how the light rail situation will affect the area financially. The expansion is projected to cost somewhere from $250 million somewhere in the $800 million range depending on the final expansion point. If the money cannot come from the state or local budget, the discussed ideas to make up the difference are raises in taxes, raises in fuel tax or barrowing money. This is all on top of the proposed toll on both tunnels that lead out of Norfolk.
All research for the project is projected to be done by the spring of 2014. By this time the city hopes to gain general knowledge on the total use of The Tide to see if it is worth the money to make the expansion. This survey is to be modeled after the one preformed following The Tide’s opening. A survey was conducted to ensure that the proper revenue was being sustained. The survey was conducted in mid-April to give the project time to properly develop.