Virginia Beach light rail still too costly, mayor says

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On Tuesday Oct. 4, Virginia Beach City Council weighed the cost of extending the Tide light rail from Newtown Road to Town Center. (Photo Kate Miskin/Southside Daily)

On Tuesday Oct. 4, Virginia Beach City Council weighed the cost of extending the Tide light rail from Newtown Road to Town Center. (Photo Kate Miskin/Southside Daily)

One day after Hampton Roads Transit unveiled a new, reduced estimate for the cost of extending the Tide light rail from Norfolk to Virginia Beach, Mayor Will Sessoms said the city’s tab was still too high.

The mayor’s remarks came during a Virginia Beach City Council briefing Tuesday, after City Manager Dave Hansen and Deputy City Manager Tom Leahy presented an overview of a 30-percent design cost estimate of the project. That estimate, unveiled by Hampton Roads Transit Monday, pegged the expense of completing the roughly 3-mile extension at $243.1 million, leaving $88 million for the city to cover, after a $155-million contribution from the state.

By Hansen’s estimate, the city’s portion could range from $60 million to $90 million.

“I believe the cost should be less,” Sessoms said, before asking Hansen to explore lowering the city’s share of the projected cost even further. Hansen agreed.

The move came after council members weighed in about the expense of the light rail and the wisdom of the project itself.

Councilman John D. Moss spoke out early. The light rail would not reduce congestion, would increase traffic at selected locations and would not contribute directly to economic development, he said.

Hansen took the opposite view, saying the light rail would foster economic development, boost real-estate values and spark job growth; it would also connect the commerce of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, correct the “flawed strategy” of ending the Tide at Newtown Road Station, appeal to millennials and preserve suburban and rural neighborhoods.

“It does not impact them whatsoever,” he said, meaning non-urban locations. “It attracts a 21st century workforce.”

Council member Benjamin Davenport expressed a similar view, saying Virginia Beach needed light rail to avoid being left behind.

“This is part of the future,” he said. “And we have to plan for the future.”

Moss, however, encouraged residents do their own research.

“People should not take this as gospel,” he said. “People should not suspend their skepticism.”

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