Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) has hired HDR Inc. to study two potential extensions to The Tide, HRT's light rail system. The first potential extension under study is from Newtown Road to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. A future study is also planned for a potential extension of The Tide to Naval Station Norfolk.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) will be complete in spring 2014. The City Council may select the preferred mode and alignment by late fall 2014.
Hampton Roads Transit presented its latest cost and ridership estimates at a City Council meeting on January 14, 2014. You can watch a video of that presentation and download a PDF of the slideshow on the Costs and Ridership page
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.
What alternatives are being studied for the Norfolk Southern right of way?
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 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 Alternatives Analysis is complete, and now the project is in the environmental impact stage. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement 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. After the study is complete and after the City Council chooses a preferred alignment, a Final Environmental Impact Statement will be drafted for the chosen alternative.
HRT also will also study a possible expansion of The Tide to the Norfolk Naval Station.
How much does this study cost and who is paying for it?
$7.16 million. Funding comes from the federal and state governments. No city money was spent on it.
Once the study is done, who will decide what to do next – HRT or the Virginia Beach City Council?
The City Council - likely in late fall of 2014. 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?
It depends on the route. The latest study, released in January 2014, includes three cost estimates – one for each option. Costs are in 2018 dollars:
- Newtown Road to Rosemont Road -- $470 million
- Newtown Road to the Oceanfront (along the Norfolk Southern right of way) -- $1.032 billion
- Newtown Road to the Oceanfront (including part of the route through Hilltop/Laskin Road) -- $1.310 billion
One word of caution: The cost estimates WILL change, depending on many factors that have not yet been decided. As of March 2014, only 10% of the design is complete.
Who would pay for that?
If the project is submitted to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for consideration in the New Starts Program for funding, costs would be divided roughly in this proportion:
- Federal government – 50%
- State government – 25%
- City government – 25%
However, there is a backlog of approximately $20 billion of New Starts eligible light rail programs from metropolitan areas from around the U.S. Consequently, the project may require a greater percentage of state and/or City funding contribution if Federal funding is not available. In addition, the costs would vary, depending on exactly how the line is designed and built.
How much would it cost for Bus Rapid Transit?
It depends on the route. The latest study, released in January 2014, includes three cost estimates – one for each option. Costs are in 2018 dollars:
- Newtown Road to Rosemont Road -- $421 million
- Newtown Road to the Oceanfront (along the Norfolk Southern right of way) -- $752 million
- Newtown Road to the Oceanfront (including part of the route through Hilltop/Laskin Road) -- $885 million.
Also, one word of caution: The cost estimates WILL change, depending on many factors that have not yet been decided. As of March 2014, only 10% of the design is complete.
What about the cost of land for the right-of-way?
Virginia Beach bought the former Norfolk-Southern right-of-way in 2010. It runs 10.6 miles from Newtown Road to Birdneck Road. The city paid $15 million, the state kicked in $20 million and HRT $5 million. The train tracks are no longer in use and those tracks cannot be used for light rail.
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. While there is not an alignment specific to Town Center (the Rosemont Alignment being the closest), ending the light rail service at Town Center is a possibility which can be studied with the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
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 Virginia Beach municipal center
- Updated transit centers at Hilltop, Pembroke and the resort area
- A new transit center at Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake
- More drivers and mechanics
How many people ride the Tide in Norfolk?
On a typical weekday, about 5,300 trips are taken on the Tide. Daily ridership figures are tracked at http://www.gohrt.com/hrt-public-records
. In the Tide’s first year, there were 1.6 million riders. HRT welcomed its 2 millionth Tide rider in October 2012.
The Newtown Road station at the Virginia Beach city line is the busiest. On weekdays, 28 percent of all rides start or end their trips at Newtown Road. On Saturdays, it's 42 percent of all trips. Most of the riders who get on or off at Newtown Road - 61 percent - live in 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. These fares are scheduled to change effective July 2014. See proposed fare change schedule.
Does that cover the total cost of operating the Tide?
No. In 2012, fares for Norfolk’s Tide covered 11% of the operating costs. The state covered 17%, the federal government covered 23% and the city covered 49%.
How many people are projected to ride the Tide in Virginia Beach?
Again, it depends on the route.
If the light rail line were built all the way to the Oceanfront via Hilltop/Laskin Road, total ridership would more than double – to about 16,665 per weekday.
The latest study includes ridership estimates for three options. All three estimates are for daily weekday riders during normal commuting hours – Monday to Friday 9-5.
The estimates do NOT cover nights or weekends, and therefore do NOT include tourists and day trippers going to the Oceanfront, or people going to restaurants and bars at Town Center or Hilltop, or to Norfolk destinations, like Harbor Park or MacArthur Center, from Virginia Beach. If these were included, the ridership estimates would be much higher.
Given that caveat, the daily weekday ridership estimates for the Virginia Beach portion alone are:
- Newtown Road to Rosemont Road – 3,370 per weekday (plus 7,180 riders in Norfolk)
- Newtown Road to the Oceanfront without the Hilltop option – 5,295 per weekday (plus 7,535 in Norfolk)
- Newtown Road to the Oceanfront via Hilltop – 8,845 per weekday (plus 7,820 in Norfolk)
The estimates also include a small addition for non-business trips during non-commuting hours that would raise the totals by roughly 3% to 9%.
Total ridership on the entire Tide light rail system is estimated to be 5.3 million riders a year if the Oceanfront route via Hilltop option is built.
How many stations are proposed for Virginia Beach? Where would they be?
- For the Rosemont Alignment, the following stations are proposed: Newtown (with Park and Ride), Witchduck (with Park and Ride), Independence (with Park and Ride) elevated options and Rosemont (with Park and Ride).
- For the Oceanfront Alignment (via former Norfolk-Southern right-of-way), the following stations are proposed:Newtown (with Park and Ride), Witchduck (with Park and Ride), Independence (with Park and Ride) elevated options, Rosemont (with Park and Ride), Lynnhaven (with Park and Ride),North Oceana (with Park and Ride),Convention Center and Oceanfront.
- For the Oceanfront Alignment (via Laskin Road via Hilltop), the following stations are proposed: Newtown (with Park and Ride), Witchduck (with Park and Ride), Independence (with Park and Ride) elevated options, Rosemont (with Park and Ride), Lynnhaven (with Park and Ride), Great Neck (with Park and Ride) elevated station, Hilltop West, Hilltop East (Park and Ride), Birdneck, Convention Center, and Oceanfront.
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, Lynnhaven Parkway, Virginia Beach Blvd./Great Neck Road/Laskin Road and First Colonial Road - - depending on the alignment. Other roads would be crossed at grade.
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 for larger image
Why doesn't the alignment go to Hilltop?
Actually, we are looking into that possibility. 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.
If Hilltop is added, would the train run in the median of Laskin Road or where the feeder roads are now? Where would the stations be?
The median would be used, with stations at Great Neck, Hilltop West, Hilltop East and Birdneck Road.
Are there plans to extend the light rail track elsewhere – to the airport, ODU, Norfolk Naval Station or other cities?
HRT is studying a possible Navy base extension, with possible links to ODU or the airport. Other extensions, at this point, are merely speculative. Click here to view the region’s long range transit plan. Click here
to view the region's long range transit plan. Back to Index
When and how often would it operate?
A light rail extension would mirror The Tides' schedule in Norfolk:
What was the result of the Nov. 6, 2012, referendum on the light rail question?
62.7% of Virginia Beach voters voted yes on this referendum question: 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?
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. In addition, there have been several sets of public meetings on the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study in April 2013, September 2013 and February 2014.
Will there be more public meetings?
Yes. At least one public hearing will be hosted for the public to view and comment on the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) during the summer 2014.
Many more meetings will be held as the process moves forward.
Next milestone activities and dates include:
- Spring 2014: Complete Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and submit to FTA for review
- Summer 2014: Formal DEIS Public Comment Period and Public Hearings
- Fall 2014: Council selects Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) and completion
- Fall 2014: Initiation of Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by FTA
- Late Fall 2014: Adoption of the LPA into the Long Range Transportation Plan
(LRTP) by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO)
- Fall 2015: Completion of EIS and Record of Decision (ROD) - for Rosemont
- Spring 2016: Completion of EIS and Record of Decision (ROD) - for Oceanfront alternative
- All Virginia Beach City Council members: email@example.com.
- Individual City Council members: Visit www.VBgov.com/citycouncil for e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
- For more information, contact Brian Solis, the City’s Transportation and Transit Coordinator, at (757) 385-2907 or firstname.lastname@example.org.