Transportation FAQ

​​​​​Virginia Beach is pursuing plans to extend light rail to Town Center. The City Council endorsed this plan on May 12, 2015. ​The state has agreed to pay for half the cost of this extension. It would include doubling the city’s bus service and creating a walking-biking trail alongside the light rail line.

​​​​​​

 General

​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 through downtown Norfolk to the edge of Ghent at Colley Ave. and Brambleton Ave.

Could the City Council choose a different mode of transit?

No. On May 12, 2015, the City Council adopted its preferred alternative, which calls for extending light rail to Town Center. An alternative to light rail was to create a bus rapid transit line instead. The City Council did not select that option.

Tell me more about the Norfolk light rail line.

​Norfolk’s starter line, called The Tide, runs 7.4 miles from the Norfolk medical complex (Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters and Eastern Virginia Medical School) through downtown Norfolk, past Norfolk State University to the end of the line at Newtown Road. 

 
The line includes 11 stations and four park-and-ride lots. Parking is free. Trains arrive every 10 minutes during rush hours.

The most common adult fare is $1.75 each way. Youth 17 years old and younger ride for free with a Freedom Pass or with a paying adult. 

The Tide began operating in August 2011. Through May 2015, it has attracted 6.1 million riders. On a typical weekday, The Tide carries 5,000 passengers. An additional 4,500 typically ride The Tide on Saturdays and 1,800 on Sundays.

 
Once the Tide is extended to Town Center, the total system will be 10.5 miles and have 14 stations. 

 Virginia Beach Plan

What did the Virginia Beach City Council approve?

On May 12, 2015, the Virgi
nia Beach City Council took two actions in support of light rail:
  1. Adopted a resolution favoring the extension of light rail 3.5 miles from the Newtown Road station in Norfolk to Virginia Beach Town Center. The extension would include a new station at Witchduck Road and two stations in the Town Center area – one near Kellam Road and one (the end of the line) at Constitution Drive. This is called the Locally Preferred Alternative. 
  2. Adopted a budget that includes plans to extend light rail to Town Center, with $17.5 million to proceed in the 2015-16 fiscal year and $20 million in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. This also includes plans to double the city’s bus service, build a walking-biking trail alongside the light rail line and build 24 new bus shelters. 

​Was that the final vote? Is light rail in Virginia Beach a done deal?

No. The City Council will have at least two more occasions to vote on the light rail plan. 
  • Late 2015: A vote on whether to buy light rail vehicles 
  • Mid 2017: A vote on the final contract to build the light rail line

Will light rail extend to the Oceanfront?
Not in this first phase, but it could happen eventually.​ The next extension being considered is to Naval Station Norfolk.

Were other routes considered?
Yes. The City Council weighed four possible light rail routes – extensions to Town Center, Rosemont Road and two routes to the Oceanfront (one via Laskin Road/Hilltop, the other via the abandoned Norfolk-Southern right-of-way). The city Council chose the Town Center option primarily because of the lower cost.​

How many people will ride the extension to Town Center?
About 2,250 passengers on the Virginia Beach portion on a typical weekday, according to one study (this figure will be updated in Sept. 2016). Thousands more will ride on weekends. What’s more, adding the Virginia Beach section will add thousands of riders to the Norfolk section, too. 

In all, about 2.9 million passengers are expected to ride The Tide each year. That includes an average of 9,300 riders on a typical weekday on both the Norfolk and Virginia Beach segments.

Will the light rail track cross major streets at road level?
The tracks will be elevated above Independence Boulevard and Witchduck Road. Elsewhere, the tracks will be at street level.

Where exactly will the stations be in Virginia Beach?
At Town Center, there would be three stations:
  1. Constitution Drive: most likely east of Constitution, near the current movie theater.
  2. Kellam Road
  3. Witchduck Road: the station will be on the south side of Southern Boulevard at Pennsylvania Avenue.  The park-and-ride location will likely be on city-owned property across Southern Boulevard, on city-owned property that used to be Kempsville Building Materials.

When will construction begin?
Possibly 2017. It depends on the final City Council vote, which might happen in mid-2017.

When will light rail service begin in Virginia Beach?
Possibly late 2019 or early 2020.​

 Bus Service

How will this change bus service in Virginia Beach?
Bus service will double. That includes adding two new bus lines, running buses more often during the day and expanding service on nights and weekends. 

 
Bus service will go from 110,000 hours a year to 229,000 hours a year. 

Where will the new buses run?

Two new routes will be added.

  • Route 38 will offer north-south service between the Witchduck Station and Greenbrier Mall, through the highly populated areas of Kempsville and Centerville.

  • Route 39 will run from Sentara Princess Anne Hospital to the Oceanfront via Lynnhaven Mall.  This route will replace parts of Route 29 and will increase service on Route 32 with all-day, year-round service.​

​​​​Also, buses will run more often on existing routes during weekdays and weekends, and some routes will have longer hours. Here is how existing routes will be improved:

When will this happen?
The new routes will start in 2020, in coordination with light rail service to Virginia Beach. ​

Does it depend on building light rail?
Expanding bus service and extending light rail will work hand in hand.  The quicker, more efficient light rail line will be the east-west backbone of the public transit system. Buses will feed into light rail at designated stations.

What about bus shelters? Virginia Beach doesn’t have many.
True. Only 5 percent of the more than 500 bus stops in Virginia Beach have shelters. But, that’s about to change. The City Council has approved $1.87 million to build 75 new bus shelters in 2016 and 2017. That will double the number of shelters in Virginia Beach.

Also, regional funding in 2021 is scheduled to add another nearly $400,000 toward bus stop 
improvements in Virginia B​each, including new shelters.​


 

 


 Shared-Use Path

​Is a pedestrian path part of the light rail project?
Yes, the city would build a walking and biking path alongside the light rail line. It would connect neighborhoods along the route. This is another way that the total transportation network – not just light rail – serves Virginia Beach residents and visitors. It would cost about $17.7 million.

Charlotte has a very successful walking and biking path next to three miles of its light rail line (see image). It supports apartments, condos, shops, restaurants and offices. 

How would it connect with other walking and biking paths?
Virginia Beach has more than 100 miles of trails. You can see a complete list of trails on city streets and in city parks here. Virginia Beach also has two state parks and one national wildlife refuge with miles of more trails.

Does Virginia Beach have a citywide plan to expand walking and biking paths?
Yes. Whenever a road is built or widened, the city includes new biking and walking paths. You can see examples on Nimmo Parkway, Princess Anne Road and Lynnhaven Parkway. In 2014, the city added 11 miles of wider dedicated bike lanes, plus six miles of wide sidewalks and shared-use paths.

​See the city's Bikeway's & Trails Plan for additional details.

 Costs & Financial Benefits

​How much will it cost and who will pay for it?
Extending light rail to Town Center will cost about $310 million. The state will pay half of that – up to $155 million. The city will pay the rest, up to $155 million. 

There are two other important components to the project:

  1. Doubling bus service in Virginia Beach – This includes three new routes, longer hours and more frequent bus service citywide. The cost, mainly for buying 12 new buses, is $3.6 million
  2. A walking/biking path alongside the light rail line – $17.7 million. We do not yet know how this will be split between the city and state.

How much would it cost to build light rail to the Oceanfront?
Approximately $1 billion to $1.2 billion total.

How much will it cost to operate and maintain the Virginia Beach light rail segment to Town Center?
We will have this information once decisions are made on the final bus routes and other elements of the overall exten​sion plan.

What’s the financial return?
In almost every city where light rail is built or expanded, new offices, shops, restaurants, apartments and condos spring up along the line – especially around stations. These new businesses create jobs for residents and generate taxes that support city services for everyone.

A recent staff analysis concluded that extending light rail to Town Center would generate $323 million in new city taxes - ​real estate, business and others – over the next 30 years.


​Experience in other cities shows that expanding light rail generates more money in taxes than it costs to build.​

 Other Options

Where else will light rail go in Hampton Roads?
Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) is studying a possible extension to the Norfolk Naval Station. For more details, click here.

Where exactly will that line run, if it’s approved? Past ODU? Past the airport?
That’s still to be decided. Several alternatives are being discussed. The latest presentation on the issue, from May 2015, is here .

Will light rail expand to other cities?
Chesapeake has expressed interested in a possible extension to Greenbrier, but a formal study has not yet begun.​

What about an extension to the Peninsula?
It’s possible, but that’s further in future.  However, a transit study to examine the feasibility of bus rapid transit or other technology on the Peninsula is funded and underway.

 Referendum & Public Input

Is there a question on the ballot for November 8, 2016 that relates to light rail?

Yes, there is a non-binding referendum question on this year's ballot: "Should City Council of Virginia Beach spend local funds to extend Light Rail from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach?" Click here ​to see the full ballot​.​

​What was the result of the Nov. 6, 2012, referendum on light rail?
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?” 

Contact:

All Virginia Beach City Council members: ctycncl@vbgov.com

For more information: 
Brian Solis​
Virginia Beach Transportation & Transit Planning Manager
(757) 385-2907
bsolis@vbgov.com ​​