Light rail system expected to ease traffic congestionApril 29, 2011 6:00 AM
by Elizabeth Cooper
Passengers soon will climb aboard Virginia’s first light rail system as The Tide begins operation in Norfolk early this fall. The 7.4-mile public transit system will extend from Eastern Virginia Medical Center through downtown, adjacent to I-264 and end at the Virginia Beach city line.
The Tide, however, has endured cost overruns and delays since construction began in late 2007. The $338 million system is about 16 months behind schedule and $106 million over initial projected costs. Still, Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim believes The Tide will be a vital transportation link for Hampton Roads.
“We expect it to be a regional system,” Fraim says, noting that 11,000 people drive to Norfolk for work each day. “About 82 percent of them drive alone, many from Virginia Beach. If we can persuade just a fraction of those folks to ride light rail, it will ease congestion for everyone and improve the chances for expanding the system into our sister cities.”
James V. Koch believes light rail will be highly subsidized, with about 90 percent of its operating costs funded by taxpayers. “That’s an interesting circumstance because taxpayers normally don’t like to do that,” notes Koch, who is president emeritus and the Board of Visitors Professor of Economics at Old Dominion University. “In order for this system to work well, we’re going to have to connect high-density population centers.” Such areas would include the Naval Station Norfolk, ODU, Portsmouth, the oceanfront and the Peninsula. “That will make the Norfolk system much more viable. The more people involved and the more connections there are, the more valuable.”
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