The proposed expansion of Norfolk’s Tide light rail to Virginia Beach is no stranger to controversy, but a new phase has surfaced in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
Since the storm hit on Oct. 8, some who oppose the light rail project have taken to Facebook under the slogan “Drains Not Trains,” which calls for the city to reject the proposed $243 million transit expansion and use the funds to improve drainage systems across the region instead.
A Facebook page titled Drains Not Trains came as a reaction to the hurricane, which hit Virginia Beach with up to 17 inches of rain and damage estimates that range as high as $51 million, though the city is waiting to hear about the availability of federal disaster aid.
Though there hasn’t been any open dialogue among those who support the page, the administrators have shared photos of the devastation and endorsed Virginia Beach City Council candidate Jessica Abbott, who is a FEMA/NFIP certified flood agent.
As for the $243 million estimated price tag for the light rail, the state has said it will commit $155 million to the project, and Virginia Beach would be responsible for the remaining $88 million.
Still, since 2013, the city had dedicated only about 24 percent of that amount — $21 million — to water improvement, according to Virginia Beach Communications Administrator Julie Hill. The city plans to contribute another $12 million to the issue in the coming fiscal year, according to Hill.
Another page, titled Virginia Beach Republicans, has been used as a platform for light rail opponents to vent their frustrations about the transit project.
Jim Cohen, one of several page administrators, explained in an interview why he opposes the light rail.
“Rails are wonderful when towns are built for them, but Virginia Beach is not developed for the light train,” he said. “It’s a big expense with little return. And the cost of this project would be a nightmare for the next generation that would pay for it.”
Cohen, a grassroots Republican who once worked for Siemens, a railway technology company, also expressed frustration with the leaders who are responsible for managing city funding.
“The average Joe or Jane has a reasonable expectation that city council is looking out for them, but after this flood it’s apparent that they haven’t been. It has really hurt the city.”
The Facebook page has also created an event called “Let’s Crash the Light Rail Party.” Nearly 80 prospective attendees who support “Drains Not Trains” plan to express their opposition to the light rail by passing out signage and initiating conversations about the project.
The event is set to take place on Nov. 5 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.