HRT narrows down boundaries of Norfolk light rail expansion, but continues looking for input on exact route

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va (WAVY) — For the second time, Hampton Roads Transit is taking a serious look at extending mass transit from the current “Tide” light rail route to Naval Station Norfolk.

The first study, which called for either light rail, bus rapid transit or streetcar service to connect downtown Norfolk to the city’s western suburbs, resulted in a project proposal that would be too costly, according to HRT.

Ridership number estimates didn’t justify the cost of the routes and sea level rise concerns were prevalent.

So now, an environmental review process is a quarter of the way complete on the east side of the Norfolk, according to Jamie Jackson, HRT director of Transit Development.

Hampton Roads Transit is looking within the dotted line boundaries for a light rail or a bus rapid transit line route to connect the current light rail line to Naval Station Norfolk. (Courtesy: Hampton Roads Transit)

“It’s little bit higher, as far as the ground level on the east side, so we shouldn’t have as many impacts on the environment as it relates to flooding and resiliency issues,” Jackson said.

The project considers two different transit methods, including bus rapid transit and light rail.

The goal is the same: increase transportation options by connecting the region’s existing 7.3-mile long light rail system to the naval base. Civilians and sailors alike have long complained about congestion and commute times.

To the same degree, the current light rail line, spanning from the Eastern Virginia Medical Center complex to Newtown Road at the Norfolk-Virginia Beach border, has been mocked as “the light rail to nowhere.”

“Oh yeah, [I hear that] all the time,” said Judith Brown, a Norfolk resident who regularly uses the Tide.

Opening in 2011, the more than $315 million project has beat projected ridership in the past. However, the two most recent HRT budget books says ridership system-wide is down 3 percent year-to-year.

Brown hopes more options could change this.

“The airport — I’d really like to be able to get to the airport,” Brown said.

At an open house on Wednesday afternoon, Brown was able to weigh in on an option that would provide for transportation to Norfolk International Airport, by either bus or a direct light rail line.

Jackson said the $1.4-million study is looking at connecting with the Tide either at its Military highway or Newton Road location, so nothing within the boundaries is out of the question right now.

“If you’ve got 60,000 to 70,000 people going into Naval Station Norfolk every single day — we know this project will produce ridership,” Jackson said.

By summer 2021, Jackson said we should know the preferred route and vehicle for the expansion.

Another open house is scheduled for Thursday, 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the Pretlow branch of the Norfolk Public Library in Ocean View, 111 W. Ocean View Avenue, Norfolk.

The public can also provide comments via a short survey or send a message to the project team, by visiting the project website at www.navalstationnorfolktransit.com.

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