Light Rail: Idiotic Idea In 2016. Idiotic Idea Now.

by Kerry Dougherty

Virginia Beach voters THOUGHT they drove a stake through the heart of the absurd plan to bring light rail to the city after an overwhelming vote in 2016 against the nutty, developer-driven boondoggle.

But never underestimate cultists with an agenda. You know, developers who believe taxpayers have a duty to open their wallets to help THEM get rich. Or climate kooks who don’t understand a cost/benefit analysis.

No surprise, then, they’re back. Some shadowy online group is beginning to push a bad idea that was buried in a landslide 7 years ago.

Details in a minute, but first, a little history.

Back in 2011, Norfolk unveiled The Tide, its 7.2-mile light rail system. The total cost for construction was $318.5 million, with $86 million in cost overruns. It was also 20 months late and it’s been a drain on the cash-strapped city’s finances since the day it opened.

The Tide is consistently one of the worst-performing light rail systems in the country. Anyone who tries to tell you that’s because the line is too short is unfamiliar with Buffalo’s system, which is even shorter — 6.5 miles — but carries far more passengers.

In fact, in April of this year, The Tide moved just 18,500 riders, assuming most passengers took round trips. The most recent numbers for Buffalo show about 84,000 individual riders per month, also assuming round trips.

By any measure Norfolk’s light rail is an unmitigated disaster.

Nevertheless, developers in Virginia Beach desperately wanted to extend Norfolk’s light rail to the oceanfront in 2016. Not because beachgoers had any desire to load kids, towels, coolers, chairs and sandy bodies onto trains, but because they planned to build overpriced ant colonies crammed with condos and shoppes around the stops.

The proposed system offered no benefit for traffic congestion, either. In fact, study after study showed that light rail would do nothing to ease traffic. Worse, it was going to cost about $100 million a mile to build.

So, on the same night Donald Trump defied polls and pundits by winning the presidency, the Beach light rail referendum defied the cheerleading local newspaper and phony polls by going down in flames.

Still, the right-of-way, which would have housed the rail tracks has been fallow for years. Some of us worried that the light rail crowd was simply biding its time, waiting for the city council to turn bright blue to bring it back.

That moment has arrived, apparently. Get a load of this from a keen-eyed reader of yesterday’s classified section:

It’s unclear who’s behind this ad. The website it links to is amateurish and vague.

Nevertheless, I texted that screenshot to Mayor Bobby Dyer on Thursday, asking for his reaction. Dyer once told me there would never be light rail as long as he led the city.

Here’s Dyer’s reply:

Let them dream on, with sea level rise, no financial capacity for an obsolete train that people have to drive to get to that doesn’t go where people need to go.

He’s right. Dream on. This was an idiotic idea in 2016 and it’s even more idiotic now.

Republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed and Unedited.