Secretary of Transportation on state light rail money: Use it or lose it

A Tide light rail train at the Newtown Road Station on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)
A Tide light rail train at the Newtown Road Station on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)

When state Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne meets with the Virginia Beach City Council next month to talk about the city’s light rail concerns, he’ll bring up one of his own.

That worry, he said Wednesday, is that the path toward extending the Tide from Norfolk to Town Center is blocked by politics, and that the situation could cause the state to rescind its offer to fund $155 million of the project.

“They have to deal with it,” Layne said. “And I hope they (do) soon.”

Mayor Will Sessoms announced Tuesday that Layne will headline a council work session on Nov. 24 that will be dedicated to light rail. The meeting is in response to Councilman Bob Dyer’s call for public meetings with officials to answer questions for residents and the council, he said.

Dyer has called for a second referendum on light rail, something Layne said Wednesday would delay the project further and jeopardize the state’s contribution toward it.

Layne said about $7 billion has been asked of the state for transportation projects across the commonwealth this year, and there is only $1 billion to offer. If the Beach does not use the money it has been offered soon, it could lose it, he said.

“That’s not a threat, that’s a fact we deal with these days,” Layne said.

He said the state wants to put money toward “projects that will happen” and cannot leave money “laying around” for one that may not.

Mayor Will Sessoms said he would do what it takes to keep the state’s light rail funding in the Beach and did not seemed phased by Layne’s comments.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” he said.

Layne said he will provide councilmembers at the Nov. 24 meeting with a review by the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation of Hampton Road Transit’s cost estimates for the project. HRT had previously estimated it could cost $327 million to extend The Tide to Town Center. Layne said he believes it will cost much less than that.

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