Virginia Beach mayor: Time has arrived for light rail

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by 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on March 13, 2014 at 2:12 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 13 at 6:00 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms says the time has arrived for light rail.  

During his State of the City speech Thursday, he talked about the importance of light rail and the need to fund it.   City spokeswoman Mary Hancock says the state has committed money to the project.

Governor Terry McAuliffe has been supportive of the idea in Virginia Beach and elsewhere in Virginia, but his spokeswoman said Thursday that there are are no financial commitments in place right now.

"He would need to see a specific proposal and ensure that it is in line with his priorities of fostering economic development and has the support of the local community before making any financial commitments to a project," spokeswoman Rachel Thomas told WVEC.com.

McAuliffe has said investing in transportation is necessary to keep the region's economy growing.

Thomas added, "At this point, Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne and the Governor have not seen a proposal and have not made any financial commitments."

The cost for a light rail extension from Newtown Road to Rosemont Road is currently estimated at $470 million in 2018 dollars. From Newtown to the Oceanfront, the price tag is about $1 billion. Adding a Laskin Road extension could push the cost to $1.3 billion. Click here for details.

Hampton Roads Transit is nearing completion on a Draft Environmental Impact study evaluating the best transit options for a former freight rail right-of-way that runs from Newtown to Birdneck roads in Virginia Beach. Options are bus rapid transit or light rail.

That study is expected to be complete by late summer/early fall and will give Virginia Beach important information on projected cost, ridership, station location, impacts on the community and annual operating expenses, said HRT spokesman Tom Holden.

Once completed, the city would then need to chose a “Locally Preferred Alternative” before more detailed engineering work could begin, he added.

Public hearings will be announced later this year so people can formally voice opinions on the project.

Completing the environmental impact study allows Virginia Beach to preserve any options it may want to exercise in seeking federal support for an extension, Holden added.

The HRT study is not related to three public-private sector proposals that Virginia Beach is considering in the same corridor.

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