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Va. Secretary of Transportation asks Virginia Beach to stop work on light rail project

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The Virginia Secretary of Transportation has sent a letter to Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms to stop work on the light rail project.

The Virginia Beach light rail referendum to extend from Norfolk to Virginia Beach Town Center was defeated 57 to 42 percent on Tuesday night.

The majority of votes were against the $240 million extension. The City of Virginia Beach would be responsible for footing $88 million of the cost.

John Atkinson, Virginia Beach City Treasurer said he is against the light rail and has been working the polls because he believes the money could go toward other avenues.

Cathy Callahan the president of Light Rail Now said she was cautiously optimistic as votes were coming in Tuesday night. When News 3 spoke with Callahan before results were final, she said if the referendum doesn’t pass it just means there’s more work to do.

The Hampton Roads Transit President released the following statement regarding the light rail referendum:

The future of public transportation remains a critically important element to the economic competitiveness and quality of life of Hampton Roads.

We respect the results of the Virginia Beach light rail referendum and will, at the request of Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey L. Layne, Jr., cancel the solicitation for the light rail vehicles intended for the Virginia Beach expansion.

This action in no way lessens the urgent need for better public transportation in Hampton Roads and, more specifically, the City of Virginia Beach. It is our hope that Virginia Beach will consider expanding local bus services to support transit demand that would have been met by expanded light rail service.

Providing enhanced bus service to this region may require a fresh approach to how the region pays for public transit. Transit services are currently funded on a city-by-city arrangement that yields an unbalanced and inconsistent service day. HRT is simply not funded in a way that allows it to thoughtfully plan for and promptly deliver service to all areas when demand arises.

Connect Hampton Roads® is an emerging initiative with the potential to significantly improve how we connect people and places. Customers should not have to wait an hour or 90 minutes to catch a local bus. This is unfortunately the case for many of our customers.  As part of this effort, HRT is requesting a Virginia General Assembly study to examine historic and appropriate funding sources to improve public transportation in Hampton Roads.

HRT provides more than 50,000 trips per day by bus, ferry, light rail, and paratransit vehicles. Over 60 percent of our customers on transit on an average weekday are traveling to work. In this regard, HRT services support over 20,300 jobs and $548 million in employment income across Hampton Roads.

HRT will vigorously pursue high capacity transit on the Peninsula and will move forward with further studies to provide transit services to the largest employer in the region, Naval Station Norfolk.

Enhanced public transit is critical to the financial well being of our region. We owe our best efforts to our children and grandchildren.

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Light rail referendum in Virginia Beach fails