Two public forums held Wednesday ahead of light rail vote

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Two public forums took place Wednesday night to discuss the proposed light rail expansion.

The meetings come days before residents will be presented with a referendum on extending the Tide from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach.

“The money should be spent on infrastructure and drainage, not light rail,” said voter Tom Viele.

He attended the 7 p.m. forum hosted by the Virginia Beach Tea Party, and moderated by Councilman John Moss at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library.

There, folks who spoke with 10 On Your Side shared Viele’s perspective, and felt their concerns were validated by the event’s speaker, Randal O’Toole.

O’Toole, a transportation author, referred to the Tide as “lie rail,” claiming that light rail projects always cost more than projected, and are more appropriate for areas like New York City.

“The Tide Light Rail here is a dismal failure, it has one of the lowest rates of ridership,” he told the crowded room.

An HRT official was reportedly invited to the forum, but didn’t come.

“They decided that wasn’t possible,” said Moss, one of two council members in April who opposed a measure to secure state funding for light rail expansion.

For balance, a video was played of HRT President William Harrell discussing the project, praising it as a way to connect Hampton Roads.

He called the $243.1 million dollar price tag reasonable and responsible, while claiming that the Tide has led to economic development in Norfolk.

While not many attendees at the library were on board, supporters spoke out at a second public forum, hosted at the Tidewater Community College’s Virginia Beach campus.

“We think it’s an investment in the future,” a couple told 10 On Your Side. “We think it will be very helpful to us to connect us to services and other places in the region, as particularly as we age.”

Naadira Mubarak agreed the expansion would be beneficial to retirees, as well as young people.

“It will give them a chance to have access to more jobs,” she said. “It will get them out of cars.”