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Next Tuesday, Virginia Beach taxpayers will decide whether or not The Tide light rail will extend to Town Center.
Tidewater Community College hosted a public forum where locals, a city official and a guest speaker discussed the upcoming light rail referendum. About 40 people attended, including city council member Amelia Ross-Hammond.
Those in favor of the light rail extension used the phrase “use it or lose it,” throughout the discussion in regards to the state’s $155 million grant to the project. The city could spend up to $88 million to meet the projected $243 million cost estimate.
The opposition said investing in trains would be taking a step backwards with new developing technologies, like driverless cars and Uber’s autonomous electric flying cars.
The night began with the city’s Transportation and Transit Planning Manager Brian Solis, who mentioned the referendum’s passing in 2012. He then broke down the light rail extension’s four-phase plan.
The phases include three and a half miles of new tracks and three new stations, doubling bus services in the city, creating new walkways along the train’s path and improving its infrastructure by redoing bus stops and signs.
Solis’ presentation focused heavily on doubling the city’s bus services, including more weekend and evening services and new express lanes. Solis said new routes could connect Greenbrier to the Witch Duck station, TCC to the Town Center station and the Oceanfront through Hilltop and the Lynnhaven corridor to TCC.
“Some may say ‘well these state dollars are still taxpayers dollars,’ and they are,” said Solis. “But we still pay whether it stays here or goes to some other part of the commonwealth.”
Virginia Beach Tea Party advocate Reid Greenman led the opposition and said the city doesn’t need to extend the light rail to double its bus services.
“Anybody can sell anything if they throw the right stuff at you,” Greenman said in response to Solis’ presentation. “They were talking about millions of riders, but they’re not telling you it’s 1,100 people a day along the 3.4 mile train [that will cost] between $250 and $350 million.”
Greenman sourced his information from a federal study that focuses on the Virginia Beach extension. He said the study states a light rail extension will not reduce traffic congestion, produce transit-oriented development and that it will have a negative environmental impact.
CATO Institute’s senior fellow Randal O’Toole focused on trains being an antiquated form of transportation. Despite his love for trains, he says they don’t make sense.
“It’s outdated technology over 100 years old,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole said buses are cheaper, faster, safer and can move more people than the light rail. He also said it will create the need for more subsidies over development and that buses are better than the light rail when looking at environmental impact.
“The Norfolk light rail uses so much energy that if you drive all by yourself in a Hummer, you’re more energy efficient,” O’Toole said. “It also emits a lot of greenhouse gasses, because fossil fuels are burned to generate the energy to move the light rail.”
Last up was VB Connex volunteers Mark Bernarducci and Joash Schulman who spoke in favor of the Light Rail extension. Both focused on a predicted 300 percent congestion increase in Virginia Beach and other communities that use light rails, like Charlotte, Denver, Phoenix and Portland.
Together, they conveyed a vision that would connect Virginia Beach to naval bases, the airport, Old Dominion University, Greenbrier and Princess Anne.
“The $155 million from the state means we use it or lose it,” said Bernarducci . “We can’t take it and use it for education, we can’t use it for parks and recreation … If we don’t take advantage of it now, we won’t see it again.”
Amid the opposing points of discussion, TCC social sciences student Esteban Martinez said it only affirms his vote in favor of the light rail.
“If you look at the alternatives that were given, like autonomous flying cars, that sounds great, if we’re the Jetsons.” said Martinez in an interview. “Right now I think we just need to look at an effective transportation system in the area, because we don’t have one.”