Light rail drives supporters, critics to Virginia Beach polls

After voting Tuesday, Virginia Beach resident Tom Abraham asks Christina Lehner, 18, about a petition that seeking to add a referendum on light rail to the 2016 election ballot. He signed it.
After voting, Virginia Beach resident Tom Abraham asked Christina Lehner (right) about a petition seeking to add a referendum on light rail to the 2016 election ballot. He signed it.

Virginia Beach residents weren’t voting on light rail Tuesday, but they were still fielding questions about it at the polls.

Opponents of extending Norfolk’s rail line to Town Center collected signatures at polling stations in an attempt to put the matter on next year’s ballot and potentially derail the project entirely.

Supporters of light rail wore pro-light rail T-shirts and stickers while handing out literature on their side of the issue.

“We ultimately want the same thing,” said Will Christopher, who organized light rail supporters and is leading the ‘Save the Tide’ group. “Everybody wants a better, healthier, more economically strong future for the city. They (light rail opponents) are well-meaning people; we just disagree.”

The referendum movement needs 27,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot. It would ask voters this question: “Should the city council of Virginia Beach spend local funds to extend light rail from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach?”

Supporters of extending Norkfolk's light rail system to Virginia Beach's Town Center wore stickers and T-Shirts as they spoke to voters Tuesday at the polls.
Supporters of extending Norfolk’s light rail line to Virginia Beach’s Town Center wore stickers and T-Shirts as they spoke to voters Tuesday at the polls.

The city has not approved the extension but is working on a study that would better define its costs. Opponents say it is too expensive and unnecessary and point to a prior study that said light rail would not significantly decrease highway traffic; supporters say it will boost the economy and alleviate congestion.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne previously said the referendum, if passed, could cause the state to revoke the $155 million it has set aside to help fund a light rail extension in Virginia Beach.

At a polling station off Little Neck Road, three 18-year-old Virginia Wesleyan students with copies of the petition said about 40 people had signed between 10 a.m. and noon.

Two of the students said they are likely in favor of extending The Tide to Town Center. The third, Christina Lehner, was unsure. Asked if she had signed the petition for the referendum, Lehner said she hadn’t.

“But I probably should,” she said.

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