Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Virginia Beach, NS near ROW deal

Written by 

Virginia Beach, Va., city officials said Tuesday they were close to agreement with Norfolk Southern to acquire 10.6 miles of railright-of-way for $40 million, and could complete the deal by month’s end.

hampton-roads-lrt.jpg

If completed, the acquisition could allow for extension of The Tide light rail service (depicted at left), with 7.4 miles now under construction in neighboring Norfolk, Va., west of Virginia Beach. Virginia Beach voters in 1999 rejected any commitment to LRT, leaving Norfolk to pursue the mode on its own; the $388 million line is slated to begin revenue service next May.

Virginia Beach officials had feared that the state might require the city to commit specifically to LRT to qualify for a $20 million state grant for the rail line purchase. Many City Council members have been reluctant to do so, preferring to wait for results of a transportation study evaluating LRT. Many also seek another voter referendum.

Under the agreement with the state, the city gets some leeway, committed to using its “best efforts” to pursue light rail in order to qualify for the funding. Alternatives, such as a Bus Rapid Transit, would be temporarily allowed as long as light rail remains the long-term goal, city attorney Becky Kubin told the City Council.

“We are extraordinarily close,” Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson said. “We don't want to lose the ground we’ve covered.”

Under the 2009 agreement to buy the route, the state willput in $20 million, the city will pay $10 million, Hampton Roads Transit (operator of The Tide) will contribute $5 million, and the remaining $5 million will come from a utility easement on the property.