On January 28, a crowd of more than 500 attended a public hearing from 5:30-8pm at the Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center in Norfolk. It was the final of three public hearings on the high-speed rail topic held by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. Like the hearings in Richmond and Newport News, the speakers supported a proposed route from Petersburg to Norfolk adjacent to U.S. 460.
Nearly 30 regional leaders voiced their support at the hearing, including Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce Chair Nelson Adcock (GeoEnvironmental Resources, Inc.). Adcock said, “When we surveyed members of the Chamber, the overwhelming response was that they want an alternate, quick, reliable, and economical transportation alternative from our region through Richmond and onto Washington, D.C.” He added, “This is a pivotal time in the economic health of not only the nation, but the Commonwealth of Virginia. Strategic decisions that bring progressive and innovative transportation solutions will influence where businesses locate and prosper for decades to come.”
Key reasons to support the development of passenger rail in Hampton Roads:
Unique National Considerations
Hampton Roads is a unique national asset, containing the largest concentration of federal activities anywhere in the country outside of D.C. The region houses operations of 16 departments and agencies of the Executive Branch of the federal government including all five military services. It is home to the nation's largest naval facility, provides primary air defense to our nation's Capitol, and homeland security to our port and seacoast. Dependable, efficient, and cost effective travel to and from the D.C. area is vital to operations.
Sustain and Grow Tourism
Hampton Roads is home to major tourist destinations, including the Virginia Beach oceanfront and historic Williamsburg area, attracting nearly 5 million tourists annually. High-speed rail, coupled with a connection to an intercity light rail system whose first phase is already under construction, will provide a much needed transportation alternative to visitors and will help mitigate growing congestion during the peak tourist season.
Enhanced Economic Competitiveness
Our ability to rapidly move both people and freight to and from the region and connect with the marketplace is fundamental to Hampton Roads’ future competitiveness. In addition to facilitating the movement of people, improvements in the Norfolk Southern/Route 460 corridor will have the added benefit of enhancing the competitiveness of the Port of Virginia, while fostering the growth of manufacturing and distribution centers along the corridor.
Significant Return on Investment
Given Hampton Roads’ unique market characteristics; the region’s proximity to Washington, D.C.; the suitability of the Norfolk Southern/Route 460 corridor to high-speed rail; and the fact that passenger rail service can be implemented in the corridor with a modest investment and in a relatively short period of time, Hampton Roads arguably offers the single best return on investment of any rail corridor in the country.
Support Interconnected Livable Communities
The Bower’s Hill station will provide easy access via I-264 and the Hampton Roads beltway (I-64/I-664). Community plans envision an intermodal transfer facility at the Harbor Park station in downtown Norfolk that will link high-speed rail to the light rail system, intercity and regional bus systems, ferry service, cruise ship facilities, and direct interstate access. Along the multi-modal corridors that will be served, business and residential development will be concentrated.
Public Safety and Emergency Evacuation
Hampton Roads has insufficient emergency evacuation routes to handle its population, hindered to a great extent by bridge and tunnel crossings on every major corridor. High-speed rail will provide a high volume transportation option for moving people more quickly from the area without future congesting limited highway evacuation routes.