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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Funds needed to complete Virginia Beach light rail study

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The new Hampton Roads Transit chief will ask the Virginia Beach, Va., City Council for money to help finish the ongoing study of light rail in the city, The Virginian-Pilot reports. The City Council had been under the impression that the multi-million-dollar study would be paid for with state and federal grants obtained by HRT.


"It was always funded by HRT," Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson said Monday. "We weren't paying for it."

HRT leader Philip Shucet will ask the City Council to contribute $244,800 to the study, said Jayne Whitney, HRT's senior vice president of development. The request for money comes as HRT tries to recover from a battering over the growing costs of the Norfolk Tide, followed by the ouster of former CEO Michael Townes. Shucet replaced Townes late last month.

Councilman Bill DeSteph said he didn't want to see city money go to the study.

"I'll say we don't have the money to contribute," he said.

The city and its school division are facing an $84 million budget shortfall.

Mayor Will Sessoms said finishing the study is crucial. "There is an investment already made in the study," he said. "It seems to me if you have to start over it's going to cost the taxpayer more."

The total cost of the study is now $6.6 million. It's examining routes and the environmental impact of a project that could extend the Norfolk Tide system to Town Center and the Oceanfront. A previous cost estimate of $4.3 million represented the consultant's contract and did not include other costs, Whitney said.

The city will be asked to match 20 percent of a $1.2-million federal grant HRT received in December, Whitney said. She said requiring matching grant money is part of HRT's "cost allocation agreement" with its member cities.

"HRT has no funding mechanism to provide that match," she said.

City Councilman John Uhrin, a member of the HRT board of directors, said, "The better deal was clearly when we were told by the previous CEO that we had the money to complete study."

"I can't speak to that," Whitney said.

The study's completion, which was supposed to be late this year, has been pushed back to mid- to late 2011.

Shucet will also face questions from the City Council about whether HRT can come up with the $5 million the agency pledged toward the city's purchase of the old Norfolk Southern rail line, the likely route for a Beach light-rail project.

Whitney said HRT is working to come up with that money. "We have some sources in mind, and we're working through the details," she said.

The city has an agreement with the railroad company to buy the rail line for $40 million, which includes $20 million of state money and $10 million of city money.