"Should the City Council adopt an ordinance approving the use of all reasonable efforts to support the financing and development of The Tide light rail into Virginia Beach?"
This referendum allows voters to provide City Council with their current level of interest in pursuing light rail as an update to the 1999 light rail referendum.
If the referendum passes:
A detailed study would continue and the City Council would decide whether to approve construction and where the line should run. Construction would still depend on federal approval and funding.
If the referendum fails:
The City Council would decide how to proceed.
The result of the referendum is not legally binding on the City Council.
Index of Frequently Asked Questions
What is light rail?
Light rail is just what it sounds like – passenger rail cars that are lighter than heavy traditional railroads, running on fixed tracks, separated from car traffic, powered by overhead electric lines. Passengers get on and off at stations, rather than in the street. You can see light-rail in action in Norfolk, with the Tide running from Newtown Road to downtown Norfolk.
Could HRT and the City Council create a different mode of transit besides light rail?
Yes. There are three alternatives: light rail, bus rapid transit and expanded bus service. Actually, there’s a fourth alternative, too: Do nothing.
What's bus rapid transit (BRT)?
Bus rapid transit uses vehicles that look more like buses, riding on rubber tires, traveling on dedicated roads or lanes. They also stop at dedicated stations. BRT is generally less expensive than light rail and more flexible because it can run on city streets and dedicated lanes. BRT typically uses stations and pre-paid fares similar to Light Rail.
Who is studying the possible light rail extension?
HRT has hired a consulting firm, HDR Engineering Inc., to conduct the study. HDR is a 95-year-old global company with 7,800 employees that provides services in engineering, consulting, construction and related services. The company’s website is here: www.hdrinc.com
What will the full study tell us?
When it’s complete, the city will know with greater certainty what it will cost to build light rail or bus rapid transit, how many people will ride either service, and what each will cost to operate and maintain.
Why was this study started?
In 2008, the Virginia General Assembly directed HRT to study expanding The Tide in Hampton Roads, including to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The resulting study – called the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study – began in May 2009. It’s the first step required for possible funding under the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts Program, a competitive federal grant program that has the potential to fund construction of the transit extension.
What is being studied?
The study has two parts, which are being done concurrently – an Alternatives Analysis (AA) and a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS). The AA evaluates alternatives for the transit extension. The SDEIS outlines the purpose and need for the project and examines the environmental impacts of alternatives. It looks at the benefits and impacts of extending the transit line, including physical and natural, social, cultural and economic factors.
HRT also will study a possible expansion of The Tide to the Norfolk Naval Station when requested by the City of Norfolk.
How much does this study cost and who is paying for it?
$6.63 million. Funding comes from the federal and state governments. No city money was spent on it.
Why was the study stopped?
The study was stopped in April 2011 to get actual ridership numbers from The Tide’s first year of operation in order to validate the forecasting model.
When will the study resume? When will it end?
Following coordination with the Federal Transit Administration, the study is anticipated to resume in the fall of 2012, with a scheduled completion by the end of 2013.
Once the study is done, who will decide what to do next – HRT or the Virginia Beach City Council?
The City Council. If the council decides to move forward with the project, the council and the region’s Transportation District Commission would adopt a Locally Preferred Alternative. HRT would then submit a request to the federal government to enter the preliminary engineering phase.
How much would it cost to extend light rail into Virginia Beach?
The exact cost is not yet known. Preliminary estimates identified a cost of at least $807 million (2018 dollars) for the full 12-mile route to the resort, or at least $254 million for a 3.2-mile extension to Town Center. There are no firm numbers because the study isn’t complete yet.
Preliminary results were released in April 2011 but those numbers are no longer valid, and the actual numbers will likely change, because:
For guidance, we can look to Norfolk, where the cost was $318 million for 7.4 miles. That’s roughly $43 million per mile. While there are obviously differences – their topography and ours are not identical – this could provide a frame of reference.
How much would it cost for Bus Rapid Transit?
About $450 million (in 2018 dollars) for the full route from Newtown Road. Again, this was the estimated cost in April 2011, and it is likely to change for the same reasons the light rail cost is likely to change.
What about the cost of land?
Virginia Beach bought the former Norfolk-Southern right-of-way in 2010. It runs 10.6 miles from Newtown Road to Birdneck Road and the city paid $15 million. The state kicked in $20 million and HRT $5 million. The train tracks are no longer in use.
East of Birdneck, the alignment would likely run in existing city owned right-of-way to the Oceanfront, as detailed below.
A study is under way to see if the route can be adjusted to include the Hilltop shopping area. This may result in additional land acquisition, but it is possible this change could mostly be accommodated in the existing Laskin Road right-of-way. The acquisition needs and costs will be determined in this study (see below for further details).
Could the city build light rail in phases – say, starting with just an extension to Town Center?
Yes, that possibility is being studied.
How much did it cost to build the Norfolk light rail line? Who paid for it?
$318 million for the 7.4-mile route. About 63% of that came from the federal government. The City of Norfolk paid about 17% and the state paid about 20%.
Could HRT and Virginia Beach simply add more buses?
Yes, that’s one possibility, but it would require more than just buses. HRT says the following improvements also would be needed, which would have their own associated costs that have not yet been calculated:
- A new transit center at the Municipal Center
- Updated transit centers at Hilltop, Pembroke and the resort
- A new transit center at Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake
- More drivers and mechanics
Ridership and Fares
How many people ride the Tide in Norfolk?
On a typical weekday, about 5,000 trips are taken on the Tide. In the Tide’s first year, there were 1.6 million riders. HRT expects to welcome the 2 millionth Tide rider in November.
The Newtown Road station at the Virginia Beach city line is the busiest, with 22% of all riders. Most riders at that station come from Virginia Beach.
What’s the fare?
A one-way ticket is $1.50 for adults, $1 for children under 18, and 75 cents for seniors and persons with disabilities. Children under 38 inches tall ride free. A round trip pass costs $3 and an all-day pass for HRT transit services is $3.50. Parking at the Tide’s park-and-ride lots is free. For the complete fare schedule for HRT services, visit www.gohrt.com/fares
Does that cover the total cost of operating the Tide?
No. In June 2012, fares for Norfolk’s Tide covered 21.3% of the operating costs. The state covered 15%, the federal government covered 58.6% and the local government covered 5.1%
How many people are projected to ride the Tide in Virginia Beach?
Unfortunately, accurate estimates for ridership are not available at this time. The Federal Transit Administration and HRT are working together to develop a forecasting model that accurately reflects the actual ridership based on current ridership levels of the Tide. Once this model is calibrated, they will be able to apply Virginia Beach’s data to produce an estimate of ridership.
Stations and Routes
How many stations are proposed for Virginia Beach? Where would they be?
Tentative plans call for eight stations – one each near Witchduck Road, Town Center, Rosemont Road, Lynnhaven Road, Potters Road, Birdneck Road, the Convention Center and the former Dome site.
Click on map for larger image.
How long would a trip take?
About 55 minutes from one end to the other - EVMS/Fort Norfolk to the Oceanfront.
Does Virginia Beach already own the land for the track?
Most of it, yes. The city bought the Norfolk Southern right-of-way in 2010. This is the railroad track that runs from Newtown Road to Birdneck Road. The city might have to buy additional land if the route is changed at Laskin Road and Hilltop.
Could the existing track be reused?
No. Light rail requires a different type of track. Also, the existing track is only a single track. If light rail is built, it would require two tracks to allow for vehicles to pass each other. Additionally, the existing track is in extreme disrepair and would not be usable for cargo or passenger trains without significant repair.
Would the track cross major roads at grade or overhead?
Both. Bridges are proposed over four major roads – Witchduck Road, Independence Boulevard, Rosemont Road, and Lynnhaven Parkway. Other roads would be crossed at grade. But again, these are very preliminary plans.
The train tracks currently end at Birdneck Road. How would it get to the resort?
The preliminary plan would have the track run adjacent to Birdneck Road, 17th Street and 19th Streets, with stops at the Convention Center and the Dome site. The exact location would be determined during the design phase of the project.
Click on map for larger image.
Why doesn't the alignment go to Hilltop?
Actually, we are looking into the possibility of diverting the route to the Laskin corridor. The two alternatives shown below are being studied further for feasibility and cost/ridership estimates. This slide
shows a rendering of a possible stop at Laskin and First Colonial. These concepts are the results of the public involvement process in the Hilltop SGA
Click on map for larger image.
On April 24, 2012, City Manager Jim Spore formally requested that HRT study alternative alignments for Hilltop.
Are there plans to extend the light rail track elsewhere – to the airport, ODU, Norfolk Naval Station or other cities?
HRT will study a possible Navy base extension next, with possible links to ODU and possibly the airport. Other extensions, at this point, are merely speculative. Click here
to view the region's long range transit plan.
When and how often would it operate?
A light rail extension would mirror The Tides' schedule in Norfolk:
Referendum and Public Input
Will Virginia Beach have a referendum on light rail? When?
Yes. The City Council has placed a referendum question on the Nov. 6, 2012, election ballot. The question will be: "Should the City Council adopt an ordinance approving the use of all reasonable efforts to support the financing and development of The Tide light rail into Virginia Beach?” To view the resolution adopted by the council on April 24,click here
Wasn’t there a previous light rail referendum?
Yes. In 1999, Virginia Beach voters defeated a referendum on light rail – 55% to 45%. A week later, the City Council unanimously voted to end the project.
Since then, what other public input has there been?
When the new HRT study began in 2009, the transit agency created a Citizens Advisory Committee to assist with the project development. It includes representatives from neighborhoods and business near the entire Norfolk Southern right-of-way. HRT also held several public informational meetings in Virginia Beach, at which citizens studied plans, questioned transit officials and offered their opinions, both verbally and in writing.
What’s the timetable for decisions?
There will be a non-binding referendum on the project on November 6, 2012 for all Virginia Beach voters.
Regarding the study, it is scheduled to restart in the fall of 2012. Public hearings on the study progress are tentatively scheduled for Fall or Winter 2012. The draft report is scheduled to be completed by late Spring 2013. Final documents should be completed late 2013.
If the referendum passes, what would happen next?
The Transit Extension Study would continue, with completion scheduled for late 2013. The City Council could consider moving into the design phase at that time, once there is a more accurate estimate of project costs and ridership.
If the referendum fails, what would happen next?
The City Council will decide the next steps at that point.
Are there any upcoming events?
Yes. HRT will hold several open houses in Virginia Beach to discuss the transit extension study: