Norfolk light rail system expected to speed travelers, aid development

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by Heather B. Hayes

Norfolk’s light rail system looks like it will arrive on time. Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) officials are ramping up efforts to get the $232 million, 7.4 mile line through downtown operational by early 2010.

Officials recently awarded a $40 million contract to Skanska USA Southeast Inc. to build a 4.5-mile stretch of the rail system, which is known as The Tide. A second, more valuable contract will be awarded in the spring to lay 2.4 miles of track in the heart of the city. Officials have awarded a $31 million contract to California-based Siemens Transportation Systems Inc. to build and deliver nine light rail cars.

Norfolk Light Rail Transit will initially run from the Eastern Virginia Medical Center to Newtown Road and provide access to major activity centers like Norfolk State University, City Hall, MacArthur Center, Harbor Park and Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The system is expected to transport 6,000 to 12,000 riders daily. Officials hope to extend the line eventually through Virginia Beach, ending at the oceanfront.

The Tide will be a boon for economic development, says Carlos Clanton, director of the Norfolk Division of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. He notes that downtown projects, such as the new $280 million Residence Inn by Marriott, are already growing up around planned station locations. “It’s really become a necessity for this area because of the traffic congestion,” Clanton says. “Business travelers and tourists will be able to hop on the line and get around very, very easily, which will be a lot different than it is now.”

HRT is constructing the rail system with $167.2 million from federal sources, $34 million from the state and the remainder from the city of Norfolk. 

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