VA: Chesapeake Looks to Hop on Light-Rail Bandwagon

June 09--CHESAPEAKE -- Move over, Virginia Beach.

Chesapeake is interested in bringing light rail to Greenbrier, and it's about to take the first steps toward making it a reality.

The City Council will take up a resolution this month asking Hampton Roads Transit to help locate money for a $1.8 million corridor planning study, a prerequisite for obtaining state and federal construction funds.

The city also is preparing to apply for part of $24 million in state transportation planning dollars that will be available in 2021. The application deadline is Aug. 15.

Virginia Beach and Norfolk are using money from the Regional Surface Transportation Program to study extending light rail from Newtown Road to Town Center, and to Norfolk Naval Station.

"Now is the right time," said Chesapeake Councilman Rick West, who is offering the resolution. "This is not a commitment. You can always decide you don't want to build it, but if you don't put your hat in the ring, you don't have that option."

City Engineer Earl Sorey said the residential population in Greenbrier has expanded over the past decade.

That population is expected to multiply in the next 20 years with the construction of a high-density, mixed-use development similar to Virginia Beach's Town Center, adjacent to Dollar Tree's corporate headquarters.

Bringing light rail to Greenbrier has been part of the city's long-range plan for years but until now has been relegated to the back burner.

In 1996, the City Council adopted a resolution endorsing light rail in Chesapeake, and four years later, voters approved a referendum favoring the concept. Construction costs and funding sources were not identified.

In 2010, the council wavered -- first approving, then delaying a plan to seek federal money to explore a light-rail route. Council members balked when they learned the city would have to kick in $350,000 toward a $1.7 million study.

One year later, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization included light rail to Greenbrier as a regional goal for 2025.

The city's 2035 Comprehensive Plan, adopted earlier this year, designated a potential route for mass transit that follows the Norfolk Southern rail line from South Norfolk through Greenbrier as part of a plan for meeting the city's long-range transportation needs.

That plan also designates a series of "activity centers" and "village nodes" to add population density along the proposed route to ensure sufficient passenger traffic.

West's resolution asks HRT to explore funding options for the corridor study that might be obtained sooner than 2021.

"If other funds become available, we want to be on the record asking for it," West said. "There's no reason not to proceed."

City Manager James Baker agreed.

"We could hurt ourselves by not being at the table and at least being studied, even if we're not the first or second priority," Baker said. "This is simply Chesapeake saying we'd like to have that on the agenda."

Jeff Sheler, 757-222-5207, jeff.sheler@pilotonline.com

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