Laying tracks for The Tide
Commuters are on board with Hampton Roads Transit’s plans to extend The Tide, its 7.4-mile light rail system, according to recent public discussions about proposed new routes.
This fall, HRT held one virtual discussion and three pop-up sessions at transit stations in Norfolk to gather public input about expanding the light rail to Sentara Leigh Hospital and Military Circle Mall, both in Norfolk. A light rail stop at Military Circle would tie in with Norfolk’s plans to transform the struggling mall into a mixed-use community of hotels, parks, offices and residences. The 2.2-mile extension would take light rail from Newtown Road, crossing under interstates 264 and 64. Modifications would also be made to the Newtown Road station.
“The response has been very positive,” says Sam Sink, HRT’s director of transit development.
Extending The Tide to Military Circle would enhance transportation options in one of Norfolk’s most flood-resistant areas. “We view that corridor as high ground in Norfolk,” notes Jared Chalk, the city’s economic development director. “It’s 13 feet above sea level and much more resilient than other parts of the city.”
Chalk believes light rail service between downtown Norfolk and Military Circle will increase ridership on The Tide. “It’s a compelling way to get between these two nodes, as well as an opportunity to extend what was a very short segment and maximize its value.”
However, commuters said during the public meetings that they were disappointed that plans do not include taking The Tide to Naval Station Norfolk.
“We always wanted to see it extended that far,” Sink says, “but the level of ridership didn’t support it. It wasn’t necessarily the bang for the buck we would like to see.” Instead, HRT plans to launch a bus rapid transit (BRT) line connecting the eastern end of The Tide with Naval Station Norfolk. The bus route would have prepay stations, dedicated traffic lanes and fewer stops than other HRT buses.
“We think we will serve that need effectively with the BRT,” Sink says, adding that a timeline for adding the rapid route has not been established. Once the final survey results are tallied and shared with HRT stakeholders, the agency will begin environmental assessments in early 2022.
“These projects take a long time,” Sink notes. “We might be looking at six or seven years before we break ground on light rail to Military Circle.”