The Virginia Beach, Va., City Council has sustained momentum for bringing light rail to its downtown area, endorsing Hampton Road Transit’s ongoing planning studies for an extension of the existing Tide system and including $20 million for the project in its FY 2015-2016 budget.
The approximately 3-mile extension between the existing 7.4-mile Tide’s current terminus at Newton Road and the Virginia Beach Town Center would take advantage of a former freight rail right-of-way purchased by the city in 2010. Depending on which one of four potential Town Center station locations is selected, HRT estimates the project could cost between $240 million and $327 million.
Regardless of project’s final cost, the Commonwealth of Virginia has promised to kick in $155 million in matching funds, augmented by as much as $30 million in low-interest Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank loans.
Three longer extension alternatives are also under study, two of which would bring the system up to 13.5 miles to the Virginia Beach oceanfront and include as many as 10 stations. Bus Rapid Transit is also on the table.
Although extension opponents criticized the vote citing its cost and questioning the Tide’s benefits, a 2012 non-binding citywide referendum evidenced strong support for light rail, with nearly two-thirds of the voters supporting efforts to finance and develop the project.