New light rail expansion plan targets Norfolk's Military Circle area

Stop also planned at growing hospital complex
Tide Light Rail
Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 18:35:24-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Riding The Tide into Norfolk is a family affair for Myra Jennings.

"It's easy," she says. "You don't have to park and you don't have to drive in the traffic."

The Jennings family is part of a growing group. According to Hampton Roads Transit, one in every four light rail riders lives in Virginia Beach. Where light rail could head next has some in Norfolk buzzing.

"I think that's a game changer for the City of Norfolk," says Ray Amoruso, Hampton Roads Transit's Chief Planning and Development Officer.

Amoruso is talking about a two-mile extension of the current track. It would pick up at the Newtown Road station, adding two new stops. The track would skirt the Norfolk/Virginia Beach city line on Kempsville Road, stopping at the sprawling Sentara Leigh Hospital complex, and ending about a mile away at what will be a new, redeveloped Military Circle.

Light Rail Expansion Phase One

"The Newtown Road end-of-line was always intended to be just a starter line," Amoruso says. "It's finally going to have an east end anchor with significant land use. I mean, two of the three redevelopment plans call for a regional arena of 15,000 seats," he adds.

If approved and funded, the earliest construction could begin on the proposed extension would be 2028. Riders, according to HRT, wouldn't be on the new tracks until at least 2030.

What about Virginia Beach? Over the years, any plans to extend The Tide into the resort city faced a giant roadblock from voters. Amoruso tells News 3 anchor Blaine Stewart an eastward expansion will not happen.

"We got our instructions loud and clear from Virginia Beach in the last referendum. Until they come back to Hampton Roads Transit and tell us otherwise, it is dead in the water."

So is any expansion to the west. Previous studies have shown extending the line to Old Dominion University and Naval Station Norfolk down Hampton Boulevard, or creating a new spur along Monticello Avenue, would cost too much because of the extensive work needed to construct bridges over existing rail lines and through areas which flood easily.

HRT plans, instead, to serve these areas with a new high-capacity bus line.

Light Rail Expansion Phase Two

What is still unknown is the cost, and how much money taxpayers will have to chip in. Amoruso says it's way too early to tell. He does believe the project could qualify for significant federal and state grants.

Light Rail Expansion Funding

Back at the end of the track on Newtown Road, Myra Jennings and her family are ready to roll wherever The Tide takes them.

"Any place really, if it went, it would give us an opportunity, you know, to try that, too," she says.

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