The Tide Rolls In

by James A. Bacon

Finally some encouraging news from Norfolk’s scandal-plagued light rail project, The Tide. Philip A. Shucet, the former VDOT commissioner who was drafted to bring order to the mismanaged project, gave a project overview yesterday to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The good news: The 7.4-mile rail line is in the final phases of testing and is scheduled to open August 19.

The bad news — and this was news that Shucet revealed only in response to a question — is that the project will continue to be a drain on taxpayers. Based on current ridership projects, fare box revenues will recover only 8% of operating costs. Not only will taxpayers never get a dime back from the $338 million they paid in up-front capital, Norfolk citizens will be on the hook for millions of dollars yearly… basically for ever.

But, hey, the project is a cool one. The rail line begins near the Sentara hospital complex, runs through downtown and terminates at Newtown Road. The trains, powered by overhead electric lines, will traverse the distance in 24 minutes, stoppling at 11 stations along the way. (Click on map for more legible image.)

According to traffic estimates, there will be 2,900 weekday passenger boardings initially, and the number should grow to 7,000 by 2030. Shucet dangled the possibility, based on the experience of some other light rail systems, that those estimates could be low. Presumably, rail ridership will relieve some congestion on Norfolk’s streets and will spur transit-oriented development around the rail stations, which could further reduce automobile dependency in the years and decades ahead. Whether the project will generate a positive Return on Investment, even including the social and environmental benefits, is an open question.

Shucet said the City of Norfolk’s final tab for the project, which has been subject to some $50 million in cost overruns, is $66 million. The feds are chipping in $201 million, and the state $71 million. None of the CTB members asked the logical follow-up question to Shucet’s revelation that fares would cover less than one-tenth of operating costs: What will operating losses amount to? How much will Norfolk taxpayers be asked to cover on an ongoing basis? Inquiring minds would like to know.

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5 responses to “The Tide Rolls In”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Who wrote this?


  2. 8 per freaking cent?

    Reduce auto dependency in the decades ahead?

    Didn’t someone around here say the auto was dead?

    And how about American ordering 460 new airplanes?

  3. Transit Oriented Development does not necessarily reduce total auto trips. One needs to determine how much additional motor vehicle traffic will be generated by the additional development. It will likely outweigh the trips transferred to, or generated by, the light rail system. Has the 527 TIA been filed with VDOT? What does it say?

  4. No development will reduce the trips. The whole point of development is to increase them. The question is how much transportation does it take to support a given level of development. Development and transportation both take space, and There must be an optimum density per unit cost of the transportation required to support it . That is going to change according to the cost of living and working space, and with the price of energy.

  5. We have a situation in which the optimal varies with the cost of external variable( energy and land) faster than the cost of changing the landscape to suit. In this situation, planning is a waste of time and energy unless the plan is to maximize flexibility and minimize Long term investment.

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