VB City Council votes in favor of the next step in light rail expansion

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – City council members have voted 9-2 in favor of a measure that will secure state funding to expand The Tide. Councilman John Moss and Council Bob Dyer were the two who opposed the ordinance.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board told city officials they had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in order to receive $155 million dollars in state funding.

Council’s approval of the light rail ordinance on Tuesday night also means Hampton Roads Transit will move forward with buying light rail cars. HRT’s President William Harrell has said at previous meetings the cost of three light rail cars would be around $19 million, and would be split evenly between HRT and the city.

At Tuesday’s meeting, 53 people spoke at the light rail public hearing. WAVY.com counted 31 speakers against light rail, and 22 speakers in favor of light rail.

City Treasurer John Atkinson was among those to speak out against the project.

“In Virginia Beach buses have been, and will continue to provide the fastest, least expensive, most flexible and most convenient form of public transportation,” said Atkinson. “Light rail, as proposed, is everything Virginia Beach doesn’t need.”

Atkinson has led an effort to have a light rail referendum added to November’s ballot. He also led a group of protesters to council chambers. A few dozen supporters also showed up to rally for light rail before the meeting began.

“Long after we’re gone, hopefully you can ride the train to the naval base and ODU and to Greenbrier, or to Churchland, or Portsmouth,” said supporter Maury Bondurant.

Neal Jefferis protested the meet but didn’t speak at the podium. He believes the cost of the project hasn’t been clear to residents.

“You don’t go to a restaurant and be told it’s going to be $2 to eat, and get a $100 bill later on,” said Jefferis. “You want to know what your meal is going to cost. Same thing for my public service. Tell me what it’s going to cost. Tell me what it’s going to be.”

10 On Your Side spoke with Interim Strategic Roads Area Manager Brian Solis about the future of the project. He says there is a project timeline for ideas and approval.

According to Solis, by October 2016, final environmental documents and 30 percent of the preliminary engineering design plans will be finalized. Then, they will go up for bid in November.

Moving forward to April 2017, a final cost for the project should be out and City Council will then vote on it. If passed, Hampton Roads could see construction start by July 2017. The expanded light rail project could be up and running by late 2019 or early 2020, according to Solis.

Marc Davis from the Virginia Beach City Manager’s Office confirmed that earlier in the meeting city council voted 11-0 in favor of a biomedical park project.

The proposed project will see the transfer of 155 acres of city property, located in the Princess Anne Commons, to the Virginia Beach Development Authority for the park to be built on.

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