Published: July 24, 2011
Twenty-five years in the making, the Tide will go into service the middle of next month.
“Norfolk is the smallest city in the U.S. to have its own starter light-rail system,” boasts Philip A. Shucet,president and CEO of Hampton Roads Transit, theregional public transit agency.
The operative word is “starter.”
The Tide runs on a 7.4-mile route entirely in Norfolk. Reaching from Eastern Virginia Medical Center to Newtown Road near the Virginia Beach line, an end-to-end ride takes just 24 minutes.
But, Shucet said, “the hope is sometime it will extend into Virginia Beach.”
Though it doesn’t now run to the lively Virginia Beach oceanfront or to the huge Norfolk Naval Base, the Tide does link employment centers, hospitals, colleges, entertainment and shopping centers along Interstate 264 in Norfolk.
But increasing highway congestion, rising gas prices and changing urban development patterns has spurred renewed interest in taking the Tide 12 miles to the Virginia Beach oceanfront.
Extending the Tide all the way to the oceanfront would cost more than $800 million, but Virginia Beach’smayor says he’s open to the idea if the light-rail system attracts enough riders.
Originally envisioned as an 18-mile link between downtown Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the high capital costs of such a system and the competition for scarce public funding truncated the Tide “to what they called a minimum operable system,” explained Dwight L. Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.