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Friday, September 11, 2009

Norfolk, Va., light rail stations' look is built on flexibility

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The look of Norfolk's light-rail starter line, scheduled to open in about a year, is starting to take shape, The Virginian-Pilot reports. Stations have been designed. Electrical poles and wires are going up. The pavement around embedded rail has been dyed red.


Until now, much of the work on the $288-million rail line, the Tide, has been in the ground. With construction nearly 50 percent complete, though, the Tide is rising.

City officials have decided on a neo classical style for the 11 light-rail station shelters that is designed to fit in historic neighborhoods, including Freemason, as well as more suburban settings, including Ingleside. The shelters' appearances will vary, with heavier columns and finishes downtown and lighter, more airy features in the outlying neighborhoods, planning director Frank Duke said. Their size will vary as well, with larger shelters at stations that are projected to carry more passengers. Each will have benches, trash cans, lighting and a ticket vending machine.

"They're nice, considering we went at it with a bare-bones perspective," said City Councilman W. Randy Wright, who has championed the rail project.

The original design was very basic, but council members agreed to enhance the look at the city's expense. Hampton Roads Transit is now advertising for bids to build the stations.

The budget includes $10,000 for each station for art to be incorporated into shelter windscreens.

Karen Rudd, Norfolk's cultural affairs manager, said artists will be hired to enhance each station's windscreen. The possibilities include using etched glass, colored glass or decorative films that are fused to the glass. She said the windscreen will have to maintain a certain level of transparency and openness for safety reasons.

In addition, two to three larger pieces of art will be commissioned for light rail using $300,000 from the city's public art fund. No decisions have been made about the art or where it would be displayed, Rudd said.

Designs have also been finalized for a vehicle storage and maintenance facility that's being built adjacent to Norfolk State University. As with the stations, the original design was enhanced after NSU administrators requested that it blend better with campus architecture. The new look is taller and uses more brick. Although a nearly $11-million contract to construct the building has already been awarded, HRT officials said they expect the changes will add about $1.5 million to the cost.

Other elements of the rail project are rising from the ground as well.

The electric, or catenary, poles that hold the wires that carry power to the rail cars are being bolted in the ground along the eastern end of the line. The galvanized steel poles will be painted black from Harbor Park to the medical school

The cement pavement around embedded rails downtown is being tinted a shade of red to simulate brick. The color was chosen for aesthetics as well as to more clearly delineate the tracks from the street pavement.

The 7.4-mile light-rail line will run from Newtown Road at the city line through downtown to Eastern Virginia Medical School. It's projected to carry 6,000 to 12,000 passengers a day. The project is being paid for with federal, state and local money. Norfolk's share is $53.7 million. The state is contributing $67.1 million and the federal government is contributing $167.2 million.

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