City report: Light rail would be a boon to Virginia Beach economy

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City project light rail will bring jobs

A new City of Virginia Beach study projects that the light rail extension could increase jobs in Pembroke. (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)

Economic development could increase in the next 20 years in Virginia Beach if the light rail extension referendum passes next week, according to a study by the city. But an Old Dominion University professor said it’s only a sound projection if the light rail bridges gaps throughout the city.

The city published the report in coordination with ODU economics professor Vinod Agarwal.

The study forecasts that employment growth in the “Pembroke Strategic Growth Area” could increase by about 17,000 jobs by 2035 with the light rail extension. Jobs in the office, industrial, commercial and hotel industry are projected to increase the most.

This number stems from the middle point between two methodologies used in the study.

The first is a benchmark model, which looks at Salt Lake City’s Blue Line light rail system’s impact on employment growth in areas within a half-mile radius of its stations. Salt Lake City was chosen because its employment pool size has a correlative relationship with change rates, according to the study. Though its 38,000 employment pool is larger than Virginia Beach’s 18,000, the study states it aides in conservatively forecasting the SGA’s employment growth.

The other is a redevelopment model, which forecasts employment growth with data from a City of Virginia Beach January 2015 report on land-use projections and nationally-recognized employment per square footage metrics.

The redevelopment model projects an optimistic 18,100 jobs by 2035, while the benchmark model projects 15,700. The Virginia Employment Commission model projected about 7,000 new jobs in the Pembroke area by 2035, without infrastructure 0r employment programs the light rail extension would bring.

“It’s not an easy undertaking to estimate transit oriented development due mainly to a 3.5 mile extension of existing light rail,” Agarwal wrote in an email to City Manager Dave Hansen. “My opinion is that this study provides us a signal of potential development and employment opportunities IF and ONLY IF the current extension is part of a vision of bringing light rail for the entire city.”

Click here to read a copy of the study.

Belichis can be reached at justin@southsidedaily.com

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