Friday, March 06, 2009

Funds may aid Virginia Beach to buy right-of-way

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Scrambling belatedly to secure light rail transit service after rejecting same a decade ago, Virginia Beach, Va., may receive a $20 million state grant to acquire 10.6 miles of Norfolk Southern right-of-way within the municipality. The route, if acquired, would almost certainly become an addition to “The Tide” light rail line now being constructed in neighboring Norfolk, which ends at the Virginia Beach border.

The $20 million state grant would give Virginia Beach about $40 million for the purchase, matching the price Norfolk Southern has soughtfor the property. Virginia Beach has informally agreed to commit $10 million; Hampton Roads Transit, overseeing “The Tide,” would add $5 million, and Norfolk Southern would receive $5 million in easement payments on the land. An announcement confirming the deal is expected shortly.

“I’m advised the money is there and the secretary (of transportation) will be addressing it within a week,” said State Sen. Ken Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, who helped secure the money.

Most Virginia Beach city councilmembers have voiced support for a referendum on light rail for the city; voters rejected a similar ballot issue in 1999 by 56% to 44%, with concerns over traffic, crime, and ease of beach access raised at that time.

Construction on the initial 11-station, 7.4-mile starter line in Norfolk continues, albeit with some cost overruns threatening to drive up the estimated $288 million price tag. “The Tide” is scheduled to open in mid-2010.