Virginia Beach residents weigh in on transportation options post-light rail

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Virginia Beach Transit Meeting
Transportation and Transit Planning Manager Brian Solis presents transit proposals and data Tuesday. (Justin Belichis)

Virginia Beach City Council will soon set goals for the future of public transportation in the city, but first it heard what locals and visitors from neighboring cities had to say.

About 40 people gathered in city council’s chamber Tuesday night to discuss transportation possibilities ranging from constructing multi-modal roadways, autonomous vehicles, rapid bus lanes and more. Transportation and Transit Planning Manager Brian Solis presented the proposals and data he did at city council’s meeting in January.

“We’re here mostly to get your input,” Transportation and Transit Planning Manager Brian Solis said.

That input was measured through vocal comment, on a Facebook live stream’s comment section and a nine-question survey gauging transportation priority on an individual level. People who did not attend can fill out a survey on the city’s website.

City council will consider the input at its retreat in February, according to the survey language.

Multi-modal transportation was a consistent topic throughout the evening. Hampton University professor Laura Battaglia said she is willing to become involved beyond the level of just giving input.

“I have 20 students who are currently designing a multi-modal transportation station at Town Center because they believe in it,” Battaglia said. “We’re not only going to lose businesses, but we’re going to lose young people if we don’t re-envision our transportation system … we need something that connects people, connects community of Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, different people from economic positions of life, one that unifies and one that possibly mediates sea-level rise.”

Another topic discussed was what the city plans to do with the Norfolk Southern right-of-way, which the city, state and federal government have stake in.

“I’ll support whatever vision we decide to move forward with in terms of how to use [the right-of-way],” Tidewater Bicycle Association advocacy director Kim Whitley said. “Whether it’s bus rapid transit, or whatever [the city] has to do, make sure that we put in a multi-modal path.”

Bill Newton, who drove to the meeting from Newport News, said personal rapid transit is the way to go and that considering light rail for the city would be wrong.

“Personal rapid transit is by far better than light rail. Generally it’s elevated. It’s much like a monorail except with smaller vehicles,” Newton said. “$250 million for 12 miles, it’s ridiculous what they study every year.”

Joash Schulman, a key player in the pro-light rail campaign last year, said whatever needs to be done should simply be done with flexibility.

“Any city in the country would kill to have an east-west corridor that stretches the entire cross-section of the city,” Schulman said. “Regardless of what mode of transportation is ultimately used in that corridor … I would just suggest let’s do it. Whatever we do with that corridor, we should leave in place some flexibility to do with it what makes the most sense.”

Whatever the city does, those who spoke said they would like to see public transportation incorporated along the Norfolk Southern right-of-way.

Despite Delegate Ron Villanueva creating House Bill 2020 to change the language in the city’s agreement that limits Virginia Beach’s use of the corridor for light rail, Hansen said it looks as though the city will have to repay the state.

“I think the latest update we’re hearing out of Richmond is, yes, we will be repaying our $20 million,” Hansen said. “I think the latest negotiated conversation is paying with no interest and we probably got to do it in four year years in $5 million incremental payments.”

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