It would cost just more than $1 billion to build a light-rail line across Virginia Beach to the Oceanfront, according to an updated estimate released Tuesday by Hampton Roads Transit.
The $1.05 billion price tag was among cost and ridership projections put out by HRT as part of an ongoing study into the possibility of extending Norfolk's line.
The estimate, announced at Tuesday's City Council meeting, was nearly $200 million more than the most recent one in 2011 that pegged the cost of building a line from Newtown Road to the Oceanfront at $807 million.
That was based on predicted costs in 2018, the year construction could start. The earliest it would open is 2020, officials said. That's if the City Council approves it and the project receives federal funding. The City Council also is soliciting private-sector proposals to build the line.
HRT officials said the nearly $200 million price increase was a result of inflation and a more detailed analysis of the cost to build seven bridges needed to cross roadways and water.
The 12.2-mile route goes straight across Virginia Beach on a city-owned right of way through restricted-development zones around Oceana Naval Air Station, which City Manager Jim Spore on Tuesday called a "black hole" for development.
Tuesday's announcement did not include a cost estimate to build an alternative light-rail route to the Oceanfront along Laskin Road through the Hilltop shopping area, a newer option city and HRT officials are excited about because of the potential for more ridership and development.
HRT is expected to announce the projected cost of the 13.5-mile Hilltop route in November. It likely will be more expensive, officials said, because of additional bridges, land acquisition and length.
Mayor Will Sessoms said while he ultimately would like to see the rail line to the Oceanfront go through Hilltop, the first step is building the track from Newtown Road to Rosemont Road.
"That's doable," he said.
HRT estimated the cost to build that 4.8-mile section, going through Town Center, at $440 million in 2018 dollars. A 2011 estimate for a line to Town Center came in at $254 million.
In addition to construction costs, HRT also released projected annual operating costs for three routes, including the Hilltop option.
The lines would cost from $30 million to $44 million per year to run, with the city's share being $12 million to $18 million, according to estimates.
HRT President and CEO William Harrell said all cost projections will change as the study, expected to be completed in the spring, progresses.
The Hilltop route would be projected to attract 8,845 passengers on weekdays and 5.3 million per year, the most of the three options. The line that follows the city right of way would draw 5,295 people on weekdays and 4.2 million per year. Nearly 3,400 people would use the line running from Newtown Road to Rosemont Road on weekdays and about 3.3 million people would ride in a year. The ridership predictions are for the year 2034.
HRT and city officials said the model is conservative and doesn't include all the tourists who likely would ride light rail.
"We know there is potential that is not captured in here," said Jim Wood, a city councilman and HRT commissioner. "These numbers are artificially low because of the model we're forced to use."
At the same time HRT is researching a light-rail expansion into Virginia Beach, city officials are soliciting proposals from the private sector.
The city so far has received interest from a group led by former HRT President and CEO Phillip Shucet. The deadline for other groups to submit a proposal is Oct. 21.
Shucet's group has said it could build a 5.2-mile line from Newtown to Rosemont Road for $235 million.
HRT officials said that price doesn't include significant money for contingencies and doesn't take into account money the city has spent acquiring the right of way, other land purchases and the cost of the ongoing $6.6 million study.