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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Virginia Beach plan documents new interest in light rail

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The city of Virginia Beach, Va., has released the final draft of its comprehensive plan, which is a blueprint for how the city will grow in the future, Inside Business reports. Included in the plan is a section on light rail and how it could fit into the city's transportation master plan.

Ten years ago, a majority of Beach voters opposed light rail in a referendum, dooming the public transit project. Fear of higher taxes was cited as one of the main reasons for opposing a light rail link with Norfolk. But as construction of The Tide takes place in Norfolk, the study said, public anticipation has grown and there is interest in extending the transit system to Virginia Beach and other regional employment nodes such as Naval Station Norfolk.

Norfolk's light rail system will begin operating in 2010. The seven-mile route will connect Fort Norfolk Plaza on the city's west side with Sentara Leigh Hospital and Newtown Road on the east side.

Negotiations are under way for the city of Virginia Beach to buy Norfolk Southern's 10.6-mile right-of-way from Newtown Road to the Oceanfront for $40 million.

During the public participation process for the comprehensive plan, there was repeated support for expansion of light rail into Virginia Beach and the Oceanfront, the study said. Mayors of both Virginia Beach and Norfolk support extending light rail from Norfolk to Virginia Beach. There is even talk of the city of Virginia Beach buying a former Circuit City store on Independence Boulevard for a future station.

But a Beach resident, Wally Erb, a defense contractor and blogger, has filed papers with the Virginia Beach Circuit Court to have a referendum on light rail in 2010, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Erb is listed as a blog editor on the Website of the Virginia News Source, an online news portal linked to the Virginia Beach Taxpayer Alliance, an anti-tax group, and the Libertarian party.