Friday, July 02, 2010

Virginia Beach LRT referendum falters (for now)

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A drive to offer voters in Virginia Beach, Va., a referendum on light rail transit this November has fallen short, with only 1,083 signatures collected to get the measure on the ballot. At least 25,000 signatures would be required.

Wally Erb, a candidate for City Council, led the fight for the referendum, which he says would better reflect the city’s will on any LRT decision. Erb opposes light rail, and suggested he would continue to fight it. “My campaign issue is going to be, ‘No means no until we have a referendum and say yes,’” he said.

At present, the Virgina Beach City Council has commissioneda study to determine if the city should extend LRT across the Norfolk-Virginia Beach border, in essence adding to “The Tide” LRT project scheduled to begin operating in neighboring Norfolk next year. Virginia Beach voters turned down LRT as an option in 1999, leaving Norfolk to proceed on its own. With traffic congestion rising, however, the city has begun reconsidering its earlier opposition.

hampton-roads-lrt.jpg

Some Virginia Beach council members believe a referendum is desirable, but only after the current study is completed. “Frankly, I didn't think there was any chance of [Erb] getting the signatures because there's not enough information yet for people to make an educated decision, so putting it on the ballot is premature,” said Councilman Jim Wood, a board member of Hampton Roads Transit.

“The Tide” will stretch 7.4 miles through Norfolk, roughly paralleling the Elizabeth River, and will open with 11 stations. Hampton Roads Transit, on its website, says the project is 86.5% complete. Nine Siemens Mobility S70 cars (pictured above left) will service the line.