VA: Chesapeake Takes Step Toward Light Rail

Aug. 20--CHESAPEAKE -- The City Council has taken a tentative step toward bringing light rail to Greenbrier, but only after being assured it wasn't obligated to follow through on the costly endeavor.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Hampton Roads Transit to help locate funds for a $1.8 million corridor planning study, a prerequisite for obtaining state and federal construction funds.

But approval came after Councilman Rick West, the resolution's sponsor, broadened its language to refer to "mass transit" rather than light rail.

West also reminded his colleagues their vote did not commit the city to obtaining the funds, let alone pursuing a light-rail project that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It will be up to the council to decide," West said. "I just wanted to give them the opportunity to have the choice."

West said he agreed to amend the resolution "to make it more palatable" to some who question whether light rail is needed in Chesapeake. Without it, he said, "the vote would have been very close."

As revised, the resolution calls on HRT "to pursue state and federal funding opportunities to conduct a corridor planning study for the extension of mass transit" to Greenbrier.

Even without the revision, West said, a study would explore other transportation modes "to determine if light rail is the way to go."

He said a study could recommend expanding bus service to Greenbrier, an area he said is underserved by HRT.

While additional bus service would be an improvement, he said, "I want light rail. We have the biggest non-military employment center in the region. Why would you not bring light rail, especially after the Dollar Tree development comes in?"

He was referring to the company's long-range plans to turn 70 acres adjacent to its Greenbrier headquarters into a high-density residential, retail and commercial development similar to Virginia Beach's Town Center.

"I definitely think it's time to do it," West said.

Copyright 2014 - The Virginian-Pilot