Virginia Beach council members want federal dollars to expand …
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - The troubles Hampton Roads Transit has had in Norfolk have shaken public confidence in the agency. At a time of economic uncertainty across the country, putting money into HRT seemed a risky investment.
But Monday afternoon, Virginia Beach leaders said the agency took a big step towards restoring confidence.
"For him to come back and say they have a found a way to fund this, it really establishes their credibility in my opinion," said Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms.
Only weeks ago, HRT leaders said Virginia Beach would have to pay $245,000 for their part of a $6.6 million transportation alternative study, after HRT's former leader, Michael Townes, promised it would be free to the city.
Monday afternoon, HRT announced they would pay for the study. President and CEO Philip Shucet said "It is clear to me that HRT committed with certainty that no local city funds would be used."
"I'm just delighted with HRT that they've found a way to spare a $250,000 expense to the citizens of Virginia Beach," said Councilman Bob Dyer.
The study opens up the option of extending the tide to the resort area or using bus rapid transit. Any type of rail construction or bus line will require millions of federal dollars, and the first step in bringing that money to Hampton Roads is a transit study.
But HRT's payment does even more than that. Hampton Roads Transit has struggled with its credibility recently. Virginia Beach leaders said this news puts the agency on the right track for the future.
Norfolk's light rail project is more than $100 million over budget and behind schedule. It's expected to be complete in May, 2011.
Below is the complete statement from HRT President and CEO Phil Shucet:
Philip Shucet, HRT President and CEO, said, "Today I carefully reviewed the verbatim transcript from the May 19, 2009 Virginia Beach City Council meeting, it is clear to me that HRT committed with certainty that no local City funds would be used to fund the Alternatives Analysis and Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Though our policy is clear that federal grants are locally matched by a partner city, the firm recorded commitment made by HRT is compelling. We will honor that commitment for this particular local match requirement. It's the right thing to do, especially in this case where Virginia Beach supported acquiring the federal funding with the specific understanding that a city match was not necessary. As such, HRT withdraws its request that the Virginia Beach City Council supply the local match.
But let me be clear: Going forward, we will not waver from our policy requiring localities to meet any local match requirements associated with future appropriations. It is one thing to keep a prior commitment made and received in good faith. But I do not want there to be any question about where we stand with respect to this matter in the future."
HRT Chairman and Virginia Beach City Councilman Jim Wood said, "As was promised by HRT's past president, the citizens of Virginia Beach can rest assured that the feasibility study will be funded without city dollars. HRT should be applauded for its decision today. Part of taking steps toward rebuilding public confidence requires honoring previous commitments. Now we can move forward as partners."
HRT Commissioner and Virginia Beach City Councilman John Uhrin agreed. "I'm pleased that HRT has taken this step to ensure the funds are in place to continue this important study. This goes a long way in restoring trust in the way HRT does business."
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