Expanding light rail to Virginia Beach depends on test run


by Karen Hopkins


Posted on April 26, 2011 at 6:22 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 27 at 8:47 AM

VIRGINIA BEACH-- Hampton Roads Transit is pushing forward to expand light rail to Virginia Beach.

HRT released a ridership report Tuesday, estimating 5,000 people would ride beach trains each day.  But the Federal Transit Administration is demanding HRT back up that projection.

For an entire year, HRT will track ridership on Norfolk’s Tide. After that, officials will make new estimates for the number of potential Virginia Beach riders.

“We will sit back and see how the Tide performs and make sure we get good information to make good decisions,” Mayor William Sessoms said.

The city is considering three light rail plans. The first stop from Newtown Road to Town Center would cost $254 million.  A stop to Lynnhaven would cost $451 million and all the way to the Oceanfront would cost $807 million.

In order to start construction in 2018, Virginia Beach is competing with more than 20 other states for federal funding.

“If the federal government isn’t there to help build this project, the odds of it being built are very slim,” Sessoms remarked.

There’s also operating costs. Ticket sales won’t cover the Tide expenses, so taxpayers would have to foot 90% of the bill.

“It’s not worth it to the taxpayers,” Virginia Beach resident Elliot Fellman said. 

“With gas prices prices maybe light rail could be a good thing,” Norfolk resident Barbara Richardson said.

Even the role model for Virginia Beach has been plagued by cost overruns and delays. No one knows for sure when the trains in Norfolk will start running. HRT CEO Phillip Shucet expects they'll be running by the end of this year.

“I don’t have a date. It pains me to say that. I just don’t.”

Virginia Beach doesn’t have to choose light rail. HRT is also proposing plans for Bus rapid transit.