Greater Greater Washington

Ride The Tide of light rail, Virginia Beach

Just 6 months after opening, Virginia's first light rail transit system, located in Norfolk, is already exceeding ridership expectations. Now it's time for the Commonwealth's largest city, Virginia Beach, to hop aboard and extend the light rail all the way to the Atlantic oceanfront.


Photo by VaDOT on Flickr.

Dubbed "The Tide," South Hampton Roads' light rail system made its debut in Norfolk on August 19, 2011. The initial $338 million segment, operated by the regional transit agency, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), is 7.4-miles, has 11 stops, and is currently located only within Norfolk's city limits.

The system connects Norfolk State University, the downtown central business district, Harbor Park (minor league baseball stadium), and the region's premier medical center complex, including Eastern Virginia Medical School, Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, and the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters.

I had the opportunity to experience the Tide's inaugural weekend while visiting my parents in my hometown of Virginia Beach. We were among the over 75,000 people who boarded the trains during the first three days, when HRT was running a free promotion to introduce the community to the new light rail system.

Initial weekday ridership during the first year was projected to be only 2,900. However, the 6-month data shows that those early projections have been blown away. About 4,642 people ride The Tide during an average weekday. An even higher number4,850use the system on Saturdays, with 2,099 usually riding on Sundays.

Virginia Beach wary of light rail, but preserving its options

Originally, HRT had planned for The Tide to extend from downtown Norfolk all the way to the Virginia Beach oceanfront, along an abandoned Norfolk-Southern rail right-of-way. However, the transit agency needed the consent of both cities to move forward, and Beach residents voted down the proposal in 1999. Therefore, Norfolk proceeded on its own.

In recent years, however, the resort city has signaled that it may be warming up to the idea of light rail. For example, Virginia Beach's 2009 Comprehensive Plan adopted a new urban growth strategy that is designed to direct the majority of the city's future growth to 8 defined "strategic growth areas" (SGAs). Six of these SGAs are located along the city's portion of the abandoned Norfolk-Southern right-of-way currently used by The Tide in Norfolk. The comprehensive plan even gives a positive mention to light rail as an "alternative transportation" option.

In 2010, Virginia Beach contributed the $15 million in matching funds necessary to purchase the 10.6 mile stretch of Norfolk-Southern right-of-way which runs from the city's Newtown Road border with Norfolk to Birdneck Road in Virginia Beachapproximately a mile from the oceanfront. Additional right-of-way will need to be acquired to extend the existing rail lines to the city's convention center and ultimately to the resort area near the oceanfront.

Tide promises a "tsunami" of smart growth possibilities for region

For The Tide to become the truly regional transit system it was intended to be, it must extend to the Virginia Beach oceanfront. The resort city's portion of the abandoned Norfolk-Southern railway corridor has already been identified in the Hampton Roads Regional Transit Vision Plan as a priority rapid transit extension corridor.

HRT has begun a federally required transit extension study / alternatives analysis to determine what mode of rapid transit, if any, is appropriate for the corridor. The four alternatives being considered are (1) doing nothing; (2) enhancing local bus service; (3) building a bus rapid transit (BRT) line; and (4) extending The Tide's light rail line.

According to the study, an extension of The Tide light rail system to the Virginia Beach oceanfront would bring approximately 1.1 million square feet of residential and commercial development within a quarter-mile of the corridor, or 90,000 SF per corridor milethe highest and most dense level of transit-oriented development predicted in the region. Those development projections double when taking into consideration the whole half-mile transportation analysis zone (2.3 million SF / 191,000 SF per corridor mile).

The study anticipates that the Beach extension of The Tide would have 8 stations, all of which lie within the city's 2009 Comprehensive Plan-designated strategic growth areas.

After being inspired by my inaugural Tide ride in Norfolk, and prior to looking at any planning documents, I decided to create my own map of potential Virginia Beach light rail stations. Based solely on my knowledge of the area from growing up there, I was able to identify all 8 of the stations that HRT recommended in its study, plus a ninth one (at North Plaza Trail). Here's my map:


Potential Virginia Beach Tide stations. Image from Google Maps.

In April 2011, HRT suspended the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study until it could get 9-12 months of actual ridership data from The Tide's initial Norfolk segment. Having now obtained 6 of those 9-12 months of data, HRT should have no problem concluding that regional ridership will support the extension of light rail to the Beach.

Particularly in light of Amtrak's recent announcement that its popular Northeast Regional trains will directly service Norfolk's Harbor Park by the end of 2012, it makes even more sense to extend The Tide to Virginia Beach. That way, tourists and business travelers from as far north as Boston could seamlessly travel to most of the region's prime destinations without ever having to rent a car.

To paraphrase (in a shamelessly corny way) an early 1980s Blondie hit, The Tide is Highin Norfolk. Virginia Beach needs to catch the wave and extend the region's light rail system to the oceanfront as soon as possible.

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Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George's County. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Brad spent most of his adult life in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Prince George's County in 2007. Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County. 

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If The Tide actually extended within walking distance of the ocean front then that would certainly be of benefit to that area because parking is horrible around there. Certainly it would benefit tourism and hotels that aren't right next to the beach.

by Fitz on Feb 20, 2012 2:25 pm • linkreport

Actually, creating a single, Base-to-Beach line thru downtown Norfolk is what's really needed. Norfolk, however, is trying to design the leg headed from downtown to the Naval Station in such a way that it avoids many of the relatively dense, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods transit needs to serve in order to thrive.

by J.D. Hammond on Feb 20, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

I think a map on where the TIDE runs now would be helpful.

Glad to hear Tidewater is now part of Greater Washington. Today Norfolk, Tomorrow the world!

by charlie on Feb 20, 2012 2:46 pm • linkreport

The interest alone, (forget paying off the principal) on the Tide works out to $7.4 per ticket at 5000 trips per day, every day.

The Tide is no deal.

by RS on Feb 20, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

@RS

You can't base your conclusion only on ticket prices. Public transit, when designed properly, can significantly increase surrounding property values as well the quality of life of system users and beneficiaries.

by Nicoli on Feb 20, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

I was waiting for this article to come full circle and discuss light rail in the DC area.

by selxic on Feb 20, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

Your map is interesting because it shows the downfall of using an existing freight line.

Freight = industrial area = blight and low density.

The line certainly wouldnt serve anything of use NOW. In 20 years, perhaps, but it's a gamble.

by JJJJJ on Feb 20, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

I love the TIDE but whnthey got their Full Funding Agreement from the FTA, they said they'd have 6,000 to 12,000 riders per day (http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/news/details.aspx?id=190)

So where did the 2,900 number come from, such that 4,642 per weekday is exceeding forecasts?

by Kevin C on Feb 20, 2012 4:45 pm • linkreport

@Kevin C:
The 6,000-12,000 number is probably the forecast for 30 years out. The EIS would have more detail. Anyway, the first year forecast was for 2,900 rides/day.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 20, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

I for one welcome news about developments in Norfolk (and baltimore too with their red line project) when we are talking about new starts. Stories about fellow virginians getting a taste of TOD and car free lifestyles are ok in my book.

by Canaan on Feb 20, 2012 5:10 pm • linkreport

Mr. Heard will done & welcome home for the race is on...

by RADD on Feb 20, 2012 5:22 pm • linkreport

They did a good job of lowballing that initial estimate because by light rail standards ridership is pretty low. Wikipedia has a decent list of U.S. light rail systems by ridership:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_light_rail_systems_by_ridership

...which includes a great "ridership per mile" stat that nicely captures how dense ridership is. (After all, 35,000 daily passengers on the 12-mile Hiawatha line represnts a success in the way that 35,000 daily passengers on the 42-mile San Jose system does not.) The Tide has the lowest ridership per mile of any modern light rail system other than DMU systems in south Jersey and San Diego, which really are different animals.

Ridership does always go up after these sytems have been in place for a while, but it does sound like putting the Tide mostly on freight track has hurt ridership.

by jfruh on Feb 20, 2012 5:29 pm • linkreport

@ JJJJJ: Actually, only 2 of the 9 stations on my proposed map are in industrial areas (Pennsylvania Ave-Witchduck and Hilltop-Oceana NAS). The other 7 run right next to some of the main commercial strips in the city. All of these areas (commerical and industrial) can be redeveloped with higher density, urban mixed-use buildings, with very little disruption to existing nearby single-family developments. This is what makes the Beach's portion of the Norfolk-Southern railway line better suited for light rail. Many of the Norfolk stations (east of NSU) have very little redevelopment potential and are, therefore, only suitable for commuter lots. That's not the case in Va. Beach.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 20, 2012 6:06 pm • linkreport

@kevin c

That higher projection appears to be for future steady state operations. Not for operations in the first year.

Wonder if this light rail success downstate will convince folks to try light rail in NOVA. Maybe along 7, connecting Tysons with Old Town, via 7 Corners and Baileys?

by Falls Church on Feb 20, 2012 6:20 pm • linkreport

Ridership will fall below expectations. Costs will rise above all estimates. Long term costs will be unexpectedly large. Maintenance will be shortchanged. Safety will be compromised. Those in charge will be surprised and disappointed. Everyone involved will recommend the same solution: more taxpayer money.

by JAY on Feb 20, 2012 8:10 pm • linkreport

As Mr Hammond stated, I agree that in order for mass transit to really work in Hampton Roads it needs to run to the main Navy base, which is both the largest employer in the region and the home of many young sailors who can't afford individual vehicles. (We both used to live there, and Mr Hammond studied mass transit in Tidewater extensively during his collegiate studies.) Also, other options to run to the beach would be to cut north near the Laskin Road-I264 interchange then either follow Laskin Road (going through the middle of the Hilltop commercial center to the Neptune Statue, the spiritual center of the Beach) or I264/21st/22nd (the south end of Hilltop and the north side of the underused convention center before reaching the Beach's current commercial center). I believe these options would be better and cheaper than running to Birdneck before going north.

by Steve K on Feb 20, 2012 8:18 pm • linkreport

charlie: Unfortunately the only map I can still find on the Hampton Roads Transit site is one of those simplified things that shows little more than the sequence of the stations. The construction is pretty obvious on Google maps though. The western end is on the south side of Brambleton Ave west of Colley Ave. Look for the route to follow York St. to Duke St. to Bute St. to W Charllote St. to Montecello Av. to City Hall Av., diagonally across a block to E Plume St across the main civic plaza to E Main to Park Ave then a dog-leg north under 264 which it parallels more or less (along the abandoned freight line) to Newtown Rd.

by Robert C on Feb 20, 2012 8:38 pm • linkreport

So why exactly do we care about a light rail line 4 hours away?

Light rail in Virginia Beach makes little sense anyway. While every single Southern "city" north of Orlando has a low population density (less than 5,000/sq. mi.), Virginia Beach's is a joke at 1,713/sq. mi. (Norfolk's is 4,363/sq. mi.)

Instead of wasting federal dollars adding to light rail in Hampton Roads (if the state wants to pay for it that's fine, but I seriously doubt looking at the solid control of Republicans in Richmond), projects in more suitable urban areas on the West Coast and in the Northeast should get the funds instead.

by Richard Ayotte on Feb 20, 2012 8:43 pm • linkreport

To the people that speak about the costs of construction/maintenance of light rail - have you done equivalent studies on the costs of construction and maintenance of roads? Studies show road construction actually encourages more traffic exponentially, which then fails to improve the traffic situation. Roads are currently subsidized by roughly 40% due to the inability to actually place fuel taxes to cover the costs of construction and maintenance. Roads carry with them significant social costs such as lost productivity due to idling, environmental damage from exhaust, lost family time to commuting and congestion, and a host of other issues that are not fully incorporated into the cost benefit analyses. Light rail suffers from very little of this. The automobile is also based on fossil fuel, which we get from foreign nations to the tune of $300-600 billion a year. To date, $600 million worth of direct and indirect investment has occurred along the Tide light rail line. In essence it has already paid for itself by removing thousands of cars off the roads and provided investment into communities that haven't seen any money in years. Future growth is already planned and being implemented at the Newtown Road stop that turns that blighted area into an amazing mixed use commercial/residential area.

by Wesley on Feb 20, 2012 8:54 pm • linkreport

@Richard Ayotte,

It is fairly simple - you may not have noticed that Amtrak service is returning to Norfolk at a Tide light rail stop. Currently, the largest Naval base in the world is in Norfolk. There is a significant demand to have alternative transit options for military personnel in and around the region - including DC, where many must travel regularly. Soon they will be able to take the Tide to the Amtrak station and be in DC in 4 hours and in two years within 2 hours. It makes sense to extend the Tide to the Naval base and to the Oceanfront as well as Naval Station Oceana which is near the route. Your population density is disingenuous because Virginia Beach is geographically huge but the population is not dispersed evenly throughout the region. They are quite compacted along corridors with Interstate access - and that Norfolk Southern right of way.

by Wesley on Feb 20, 2012 9:00 pm • linkreport

@ Steve K & J.D. Hammoond:

The extension of The Tide to Norfolk Naval Base is already identified as a priority corridor, same as the extension to the Va. Beach oceanfront. I hadn't seen any documents describing the proposed alignment to the naval base, but I assume it would just go from Ft. Norfolk/Medical Ctr., straight up Hampton Blvd, stopping in Ghent (maybe at 21st St), ODU (maybe at 46th St), Larchmont (maybe at Surrey Crescent), W. Little Creek/Meadow Brook, and then the Naval Base (maybe at the B/Seabee intersection). Is that not correct? That 6-mile journey also seems to be the most direct route.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 20, 2012 9:34 pm • linkreport

@Bradley - they are actually discussing Granby instead as there is more right of way available. This is fresh information. There was an old trolley line that ran that route so there is sufficient space to add lines and go up Granby. Additionally, the crossing at the river branch would be less costly as it is narrower at Granby. But it will move west to ODU as well as the Naval Station.

by Wesley on Feb 20, 2012 9:59 pm • linkreport

Nice update on the Tide. I hope that it can be expanded and provide more options for folks in Hampton Roads. I used to spend a few weeks each summer there and I remember major tunnel gridlock, especially the M-M tunnel at Norfolk and Portsmouth.

For those who say the southern cities do not deserve rail discount all those who are rethinking transportation patterns. With gas already high at this time of year and breaking records with price points, a lot of people will be rethinking car trips. Also, let's add in road maintenance, which a lot of cities and states are turning to tolls to use, which cause hardship in some cases where people were not used to toll trips, but have to (i.e. here in NC with the Triangle Expressway).

Can't wait to visit again and see how the Tide works in action.

by Kristen on Feb 20, 2012 10:37 pm • linkreport

Ayotte,

You bring up something counterintuitive. You'd think that mass transit like light rail would only happen in the most dense cities. But, the thing is that light rail can make sense along a particular spine of density or suitability, even if an area at-large may not be that suitable for transit. So, you can have seemingly odd things like successful light rail in a low density city, if it's in the right place. It also helps if that suitable route hooks into a larger network of transit.

by Falls Church on Feb 20, 2012 10:46 pm • linkreport

@ Wesley: Granby, huh? Very interesting. I guess I can see that Granby does have the extra right-of-way there, but it adds almost 4 miles to the trip to the Naval Base (6 mi v. 10 mi). Plus, if the alignment goes that route, there's no way it could get back west to ODU. ODU comes before the river, right? It wouldn't be able to cut back west toward Hampton Blvd until W. Little Creek Rd, near Ward's Corner—which is far north of ODU. That would be crazy to build a light rail to the Naval Base that skips ODU!

by Bradley Heard on Feb 20, 2012 11:13 pm • linkreport

I prefer the route that takes it through Ghent, past ODU and on to the base. However water crossings are the big money in light rail. Shortening that crossing by just a little by crossing at Granby nearly saves the cost of that extra few miles in the end. And it all depends on the Navy's commitment. It could terminate somewhere east of the main gates if the Navy wishes to alter the layout of entry points. The light rail can't get onto the base anyway, they will have feeder transports from wherever it terminates. Perhaps further east isn't such a big deal for the Navy? As for ODU, it would be doable with a short jaunt west at one of the numbered streets below Riverview (get Colley, Riverview stops along the way!). The less the cost to get it up there the more attractive it becomes. I go to ODU so I know it has to have a stop near there!

by Wesley on Feb 20, 2012 11:22 pm • linkreport

A waste of taxpayer money. We already have public transportation in the tidewater area; it's called the bus. Rail is an outmoded form of transportation not suited to the modern U.S. Jay is right. This boondoggle will siphon off funds better spent on roads and highways.

by FrankD on Feb 21, 2012 7:42 am • linkreport

@FrankD I am sorry but this is very, very incorrect. Rail is not outmoded - that is the trucking lobby's favorite line however. Roads and highways cost significantly more than rail if you include the social costs as well as the further dependence on foreign sources of fuel. They are actually subsidized by local taxpayers upwards of 40% because we have not adequately taxed to cover all the costs associated with road construction and maintenance. From an economic standpoint, roads use valuable land for other things, which is a significant opportunity cost. Studies prove time and again that roads actually encourage more traffic, thereby making the problem they are meant to solve far worse. Did you know we spent more than 4.8 BILLION hours idling on roads last year?

by Wesley on Feb 21, 2012 8:19 am • linkreport

@Steve K,

As Mr Hammond stated, I agree that in order for mass transit to really work in Hampton Roads it needs to run to the main Navy base, which is both the largest employer in the region and the home of many young sailors who can't afford individual vehicles. (We both used to live there, and Mr Hammond studied mass transit in Tidewater extensively during his collegiate studies.)

I used to live in Hampton Roads too, much of it spent working with the Navy plus all the ex-Chiefs who were co-workers. I'm not sure how much interaction you had with young sailors, but in my time spent with them the issue with regards to affordability of a vehicle was the least of their concerns. Pretty much across the board young sailors showed a preference to blow $20k-$30k saved up during deployment or wreck their credit (countless hours of money counseling with Chiefs be damned) to get that shiny new Mustang or full size truck rather than save up. I guess it's easier to do so when you can just live on the ship or get a crappy apartment.

I think working The Tide towards N.O.B. would be beneficial for south Hampton Roads, but alleviating vehicle affordability for sailors isn't something that's going to raise incentives to use it.

by Fitz on Feb 21, 2012 9:37 am • linkreport

Norfolk may not be very dense population wise, but it is very dense development wise. There isn't a lot of space to put anything anywhere. It's going to be a challenge to put light rail on Hampton or Granby. Both are major arterial streets that serve West Norfolk, the most densely built up and wealthiest parts of city. Taking away a lane and/or ripping up all the heavily landscaped medians that run down both streets for light rail infrastructure isn't going to go down well with the residents in that area. I'd suggest running the train down Colley, but that street isn't very wide in most places and serves as an important alternate N/S route for West Norfolk. It doesn't cross the Lafayette river, like Granby or Hampton, but it provides much relief for the neighborhoods below it. A train down Colley would essentially turn it into a transit only corridor. Would the city be OK with that?

I think it was Mayor Paul Fraim (lives in West Norfolk) who suggested swinging the train out over the river to bypass the congested parts, and then come back into the city around ODU. That route is great for ODU and all points above it, but it avoids properly serving much of West Ghent. It'd be worse than having a line run down an out of the way freight route.

More than likely the navy base will first be served by the line that will come from the airport. That route has it's own host of issues, but it'd be much better to implement than a line running through West Norfolk.

by blueblu on Feb 21, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

@Fitz

It is a problem everywhere: Transit saves people money, and connects them to jobs, and with their money from their job and their savings they buy....a car. This reality is already built into most transit systems. Naval bases and universities are two places where, if we can postpone the auto-buying moment even a little, it saves both taxpayers and drivers money. But there's also a trend among young people toward postponing car ownership, and light rail can encourage it.

by Kevin C on Feb 21, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

Re: Norfolk Southern (NS) right-of-way... This alignment parallels Va Beach Blvd (US 58) and Laskin Road, so it does pass through some developed areas. I would see the need to include diversions to major destinations, such as Pembroke Mall, Military Circle, Lynnhaven Mall, and so on.

The old NS (which is not the same as the current NS) went all the way to the beach, terminating at Pacific Ave. A bike trail is now along that route. Presumably, this would be removed. Eastern terminus in Google street view.

I was thinking about the airport too, but that would have to be a spur along either I-64 or US 13.

And for some really wild and crazy thinking, how about a crossing to Hampton or Newport News?

by Jack Love on Feb 21, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

@Richard Ayotte - VB's population density is highly misleading. A huge geographic portion of the "City" of Virginia Beach is in or near the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which has population at or near zero. (It's a legacy of a time 20~30 years ago when VB merged with neighboring Princess Anne County). When you exclude uninhabitable areas, the population density is probably a LOT higher.

Also, it is worth noting that the Norfolk/VB area has the traffic problems of a much larger metro area. A good part of that is due to the system of tunnels and bridges in the area. This line could really be a first step in providing true alternatives to travel in that area. And the other commenters are correct that extensions to the Naval Base and to the Oceanfront could really open up both cities to a big bump in ridership, between carless Navy guys and tourists using Amtrak/light rail to have a traffic-free trip to the beach. (I'm not aware of any other transit systems that go right to the beach, other than maybe the NYC subway line to Coney Island which is not a very good comparison.)

I, personally, think it is interesting to periodically "check in" and see what is happening in neighboring metro areas, particularly those of MD and VA. Success (or failure) of The Tide could have a direct impact on whether VA legislators become more or less receptive to transit in general.

by Marc on Feb 21, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

@Kirsten "I used to spend a few weeks each summer there and I remember major tunnel gridlock, especially the M-M tunnel at Norfolk and Portsmouth."

You sure you mean the MMBT for gridlock? I've crossed it many times and have never had traffic issues. The worst was some minor slowdowns. Norfolk/Portsmouth share two tunnels named the Downtown (I-264) and Midtown (US 58), and they are ancient, narrow, two-lane bi-directional tubes, and they are indeed nasty.

The Hampton Roads BT (I-64) has epic backups.

by Jack Love on Feb 21, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

@Jack Love- You're probably right, I remember one really bad tunnel and two good ones. My uncle(who I was up visiting) used to commute from Langley to Chesapeake(Jollif Rd.)and he would sometimes get caught up there. I have another aunt and uncle in Hampton and from what I gather, they tend to stay on that end of the peninsula.

by Kristen on Feb 21, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

So is the Tide going to connect with ORF (Norfolk Airport)? It would be a shame if it did not.

by Graham on Feb 21, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

@ Jack Love:

The remaining N-S track from that old right-of-way seems to end at Birdneck Road, but there does appear to be a lot of right-of-way from there east, all the way to Pacific Ave. But the line would still need to cut north before then anyway, so that the light rail can service the Convention Center. My suggestion would be to continue for about a half-mile past Birdneck Road, then cut north, along 17th street, through what is now the trailer park, to Jefferson Ave & 19th St (Convention Center), then head east from there for about three-quarters of a mile to 19th & Pacific (Oceanfront), where those 2 big city parking lots are.

According to this article from 2008, that plan is not too far off from what developers were proposing for the area, or from what the city's Resort Area Strategic Plan is for this area.

@ Graham:

There is a plan (classified as "long term") to creat a light rail route from the Military Hwy station to Norfolk Naval Base, with one of the interim stops being ORF.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 21, 2012 5:17 pm • linkreport

Marc: The wildlife refuge in Virginia Beach is Back Bay, the Dismal Swamp and its refuge straddles the NC/VA border at the SW corner of Chesapeake (and SE corner of Suffolk).

Jack Love: The Downtown Tunnel is two structurally independent two lane tunnels built decades apart, each carrying I-264 traffic in opposite directions under the south branch of the Elizabeth River. The two lane Midtown Tunnel carries two way US 58 traffic across the main river a couple of miles downstream. A new Jordan Bridge is being built to replace the one recently demolished (south of the government shipyard). The Monitor-Merrimack facility (I-664) includes a "double barrel" tunnel with two lanes in each "barrel". Like the downtown tunnel, the frequently congested ("rush" hour and summer weekends can be particularly bad) Hampton Roads bridge tunnel has two structurally independent two lane tunnels.

by Robert C on Feb 21, 2012 6:01 pm • linkreport

Given that HRT was deliberately estimating ridership conservatively (i.e. estimating on the lowest end) in order to manage expectations, it is not a surprise that their ridership is above that low-end projection.

Mass transit works best and has best economics when it connects homes to (1) work places, (2) shopping, and (3) school. Tourism is highly seasonal in VB, roughly May to September, and won't be a major factor driving the numbers.

So, as many have noted, the light-rail can't be really successful without at least 2 extensions. (1) from downtown Norfolk to the Norfolk Naval Base (NOB) and (2) from the eastern edge of Norfolk to the VB Oceanfront via Oceana NAS.

A possible 3rd extension would be along the former Princess Anne branch of the original N&S Railway from near Witchduck Road to the VB Municipal Center. This right-of-way is still clear, apparently owned by Dominion Power, and would connect both the VB Municipal Center and thousands of homes to the light-rail system.

by Anonymous Coward on Feb 22, 2012 10:04 am • linkreport

@ Anonymous:

Tourism is seasonal, but it is a huge driver of Virginia Beach's and the region's economy. So I wouldn't underestimate the value that light rail to the Beach could add to tourism in the region. In any case, I think your other point is spot on. The Tide's extension along the N-S railway to the VB oceanfront will connect homes to work places, shopping, and school. That's where the city is planning for its growth, and that's where the line will run. And yes, both extensions (to the Beach and to NOB) are essential, as the Regional Transit Vision Plan notes.

That said, I don't think light rail to the municipal center is a good idea. Much like Prince George's County's governmental center in Upper Marlboro, MD, the Va. Beach municipal center is in a very remote, rural part of the city, outside of any strategic growth area. The better course, over time, would be to move the seat of government to one of the strategic growth areas along the LRT route (maybe north of Va Bch Blvd near N. Plaza Trail/Little Neck Rd?).

by Bradley Heard on Feb 22, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

Oh, neat. I used to live and work down in this area.

We already have public transportation in the tidewater area; it's called the bus. Rail is an outmoded form of transportation not suited to the modern U.S. Jay is right. This boondoggle will siphon off funds better spent on roads and highways.

You raise an interesting point, and I can virtually guarantee that you've never taken the HRT bus. It's a piece of shit, even compared to other American bus systems.

Lots of transit opponents in Hampton Roads point to the bus and twice-daily Amtrak service as evidence of adequate transit in the region. It really couldn't be any further from the truth; it's a mode of transit that residents and planners have relegated to use by "those people," and absolutely no thought or effort goes into running the system effectively. The routes make no sense at all, terminate abruptly, rarely conform to a timetable, and have a laughably infrequent level of service. Miss your connection? Too bad. Looks like you'll be waiting another hour in the 104° heat. I don't think they have Next Bus yet either.

On more than a few occasions, the guy driving my bus in the morning would pull over, stop the engine, and sit down in a Burger King to eat breakfast. Nobody else on the bus found this the slightest bit odd.

I'm one of the biggest transit advocates that you'll find, but the desire/need to avoid the HRT bus for my commute was the precise reason why I caved and purchased my first car.

The Norfolk/Hampton Roads area is also uniquely suited for a large and aggressive expansion of public transportation. The area is already somewhat densely populated along a few major corridors, has a surprisingly good economy, is choked with traffic, and has run out of room to build outwards.

However, there's a lot of work to be done to break the region from its car-dependency, and it's something that's going to need to be done as soon as possible if it wants to continue to grow, and develop into one of the East Coast's primary economic centers.

I-64's been expanded to its limits, there's no room for more highways, and we really can't afford many new tunnels. Virginia should strongly consider having Amtrak rethink its "high speed" route to Norfolk via Petersburg, and concentrate on building a two-track railroad from Richmond to VA Beach via Newport News, with accommodations for a future basic commuter rail line and light-rail network along the I-64 corridor.

This region has huge potential for future growth, and it's Virginia's opportunity to squander.

by andrew on Feb 22, 2012 12:34 pm • linkreport

@Fitz. Yes, many young sailors will spend a fair amount of money on a car. But having worked in several places in NOB, many others either buy a clunker or rely on friends, in my estimate about 30-40% of the younger sailors. I believe many of those who bought a clunker would have preferred not to buy at all, putting off the purchase until they could better afford it. That's a pretty big group. Add in those who are just there for training and you've got a large group of users even in off-hours, and even more if the Tide went to Oceana.

by Steve K on Feb 22, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

It's about class and race. Or, to be more specific, Virginia Beach's reluctance to make it easier for blacks and sailors to get to Virginia Beach.

It's that simple. They don't want the folks that go to Military Circle to be at the Beach.

by Capt. Hilts on Feb 22, 2012 10:55 pm • linkreport

Extensions to the Tide should follow the route of the #2 Naval Base bus route down Hampton Blvd. With all the folks at the base wanting to get downtown - and the same for ODU students - it's a natural. I used to ride the #2 a lot.

by Capt. Hilts on Feb 22, 2012 10:59 pm • linkreport

Capt. Hilts: Hampton Blvd is already a congested four lane undivided urban street south of 38th street. By the time HRT installed the segment on Montecello Ave three lanes were sacrificed for the tracks themselves and the cantenary poles in the center. Are you suggesting funneling all the existing traffic down to a single lane in each direction, trying to "share" the curb lanes with rubber tired traffic (with the poles on the sidewalk) or spend HUGE amounts on money enlarging the railroad underpass and condemning homes and businesses?

How about parallel to Redgate Ave to the vicinity of the west end of 25th St, an S curve to Parker Av, North to 43rd St. Then east to the wider part of Hampton Blvd. adjacent to the Ted Constant Center?

by Robert C on Feb 23, 2012 4:05 pm • linkreport

RC, I could go with that, but there has to be some effective way of getting those folks at NOB and Camp Elmore onto the thing.

by Capt. Hilts on Feb 23, 2012 4:23 pm • linkreport

@ Robert C:

Diverting the light rail from Hampton Blvd would miss the point of light rail, which is to conveniently connect densely populated masses of people to prime destinations, like ODU. Hampton Blvd runs through the heart of West Ghent and through a prime part of ODU, including the convention center and Foreman Field. Thus, it would be most accessible to the highest number of people and destinations.

And yes, the light rail should use 2 of the 4 existing lanes on Hampton Blvd (south of 38th), leaving one travel lane in each direction, without expanding the road. One of the advantages of West Ghent is that it is well gridded, so cars and people can take alternate routes. Claremont, Core, Colley, Kilian, and Morton Avenues are perfectly good north-south alternates to Hampton Blvd.

Over time, I suspect that once the Tide is rolling up and down Hampton Blvd, many more people in West Ghent and elsewhere will be inclined to leave their cars in their driveways and "Ride the Tide" -- which would actually reduce vehicle congestion on Hampton Blvd, even with the reduced number of lanes. Therein lies the beauty of transit!

by Bradley Heard on Feb 23, 2012 4:52 pm • linkreport

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