Light rail controversy will be on display on Election Day

John Atkinson, light rail opponent and city treasurer, constructs a petition table to be placed at one of the city's 98 voting precincts Nov. 3.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Light rail supporters and opponents say they plan to use Election Day to educate voters on a proposed extension of The Tide from Norfolk to Town Center.

The issue will not be on the ballot, but a group opposed to the extension needs 27,000 signatures from registered voters for a referendum to be placed on the ballot in November 2016.

The language of the referendum reads: “Should City Council of Virginia Beach spend local funds to extend Light Rail from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach?”

Light rail opponent and city treasurer John Atkinson is spearheading the effort.

“We’re going to have an opportunity on Tuesday to have 70,000 or more voters come to the polls,” said Atkinson. “This is not a Democrat issue. This is not a Republican issue. This is a taxpayer issue.”

Atkinson and a group of volunteers spent the day Saturday constructing signs and petition tables to be placed at each of the city’s 98 voting precincts Nov. 3.

“The eventual cost to the taxpayer in Virginia Beach is going to be horrendous, and we’re not going to be getting a whole lot of bang for our buck,” said Donald Douglas, one of nearly 900 people who have donated money to Atkinson’s effort.

The Virginia Beach city council has already designated $20 million to the extension, but Mayor Will Sessoms says the city still doesn’t know exactly how much the project will cost.

While Atkinson believes the project is a waste of taxpayer dollars, others, including Will Christopher, are working to mobilize support for the extension.

“There are natural fears to change that it’s going to impose on people’s lifestyle and pocketbooks, and it’s the opposite,” said Christopher. “If we don’t do something about it, nobody will, and the consequences of nothing could be that light rail stops.”

Save The Tide representatives say they’ll be at the polls, but Christopher says they will start by rallying on Monday at the MacArthur Square Tide station at 5 p.m. Their plan is to pack the Tide and take it to the Newtown Road station, which is the end of the line.

Atkinson says he just wants the issue in front of all beach voters.

‘I’m going to get it on the ballot whether it’s done Tuesday or whether it’s going to take another three or four months to get it.”

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