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Norfolk, Virginia/Norfolk-Virginia Beach Corridor

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Norfolk-Virginia Beach Corridor LRT

Norfolk, Virginia

(November 1999)

(Norfolk Beach Corridor Map)


Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) has planned a 13 station, 18.3-mile double track light rail transit (LRT) line from Downtown Virginia Beach (at the Pavilion) to Downtown Norfolk. (Hampton Roads Transit is the agency formed from the merger of Tidewater Regional Transit and Peninsula Transit, effective October 1, 1999; reference to HRT project planning and development connotes actions taken by either of the predecessor agencies.) The proposed LRT alignment generally follows an active Norfolk Southern Railroad right-of-way. This east-west corridor is intended to serve the growing market of commuters into Norfolk and Virginia Beach from outside those communities. Virginia Beach Boulevard and Route 44/I-264 are at or over capacity at many locations. In addition to capacity concerns, there are other important issues within the corridor, such as potential economic development opportunities and increased mobility for the residents of the Hampton Roads region. HRT estimates that the Norfolk - Virginia Beach Corridor LRT will cost $524.6 million (escalated dollars) to construct, with ridership estimated at 33,200 average weekday boardings and 11,600 daily new riders in the year 2018.

The project is the first phase of a planned 30-mile light rail system in the Hampton Roads region that includes a line to the Norfolk Naval Base and to the cities of Chesapeake and Portsmouth.

Norfolk Beach Corridor Summary Description

Proposed Project Light rail line
18.3 miles, 13 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $524.50 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $288.50 million
Annual Operating Cost ($2018) $21.70 million
Ridership Forecast (2018) 33,200 average weekday boardings
11,600 daily new riders
FY 2001 Financial Rating: Low
FY 2001 Project Justification Rating: Low-Medium
FY 2001 Overall Project Rating: Not Recommended

The overall project rating of Not Recommended is based on the project’s generally weak project justification criteria and the uncertainty regarding proposed funding to build and operate the project at this time. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


HRT completed a Major Investment Study (MIS) to evaluate transportation improvements in the 30-mile corridor extending from Virginia Beach to Downtown Norfolk and the Norfolk Naval Base. HRT selected the Light Rail Transit Alternative for the 18.3-mile segment from Virginia Beach to Downtown Norfolk as the locally preferred alternative (LPA), which was endorsed by the Hampton Roads District Planning Commission, the MPO, on January 15, 1997. Development of the lines connecting to the Norfolk Naval Base and Chesapeake/ Portsmouth has also been adopted by the MPO and will be considered in later phases.

Approval from the Federal Transit Administration to enter preliminary engineering (PE) was granted in April 1997. In November 1999, Virginia Beach voters rejected a referendum of support for the proposed project. HRT is continuing development of the project and anticipates that the Environmental Impact Statement will be completed in late fall 1999; issuance of the Record of Decision (ROD) is anticipated by March 2000. HRT is expected to submit to FTA a request to enter final design in spring 2000. The first phase of the regional LRT system is expected to begin operations in late 2004/early 2005.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(58) authorizes the Norfolk-Virginia Beach Corridor for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $10.91 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds to this project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. Criteria have been submitted for the 18.3-mile segment from Virginia Beach to Norfolk. N/A indicates that data are not available for this specific measure.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be reevaluated prior to FTA approval to enter final design, and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The Low-Medium project justification rating reflects the project’s relatively weak justification criteria.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Low

HRT estimates that the Norfolk – Virginia Beach Corridor LRT project will serve 33,200 average weekday boardings and attract 11,600 daily new riders by 2018, and would result in the following annual travel time savings.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 0.40 million hours 0.30 million hours

Based on 1990 U.S. census data, there are an estimated 1,447 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed 13 stations, representing 13 percent of all households within the corridor.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

Hampton Roads is classified as a maintenance area for both VOC and NOx, and is in attainment for ozone and carbon monoxide.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 916,807 annual tons decrease of annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 51,446 annual tons decrease of 46,921 annual tons
Hydrocarbons (HC) decrease of 224,113 annual tons decrease of 195,931 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) N/A N/A
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 5,705 annual tons decrease of 9,724 annual tons

HRT estimates the proposed project will result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTU).

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 64,640 million annual BTU decrease of 115,716 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: High

HRT estimates the following system-wide costs per passenger mile.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2018) $0.73 $0.79 $0.63

Values reflect 2018 ridership forecast and 1998 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low-Medium

HRT estimates the following cost effectiveness indices.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $16.40 $15.10

Values reflect 2018 ridership forecast and 1998 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Low-Medium

The Low-Medium land use rating reflects the relatively low density development and marginal transit supportive corridor policies in the corridor.

Existing Conditions: Total employment and population in station areas are relatively small given the length of the corridor. Most stations have neighborhoods of both multi-family and single-family housing within a ½ mile radius. Neighborhood access in some areas is blocked by an adjacent freeway and/or circuitous streets. Residential areas in the rail corridor are typically relatively low density, i.e., less than 9 units per acre. The Norfolk CBD is small but relatively dense and pedestrian accessible. Streetscape initiatives have recently been undertaken in conjunction with redevelopment projects in transit station areas. Most of the moderate to high density population areas in Norfolk are concentrated a few miles away from the light rail line. Virginia Beach has an established development boundary beyond which public services are not provided. Parking costs at CBD city lots range up to $1 per hour or $8 per day, with monthly rates from $43 to $85. Approximately 2.1 parking spaces per 1000 sq. ft. exist within proposed CBD station areas. Norfolk CBD high trip generators include the MacArthur Center, the Harbor Park minor league baseball stadium and Norfolk State University.

Outside the Norfolk CBD, residential areas are generally single-family, with some multi-family developments, and are suburban in character. The design of most areas outside the Norfolk CBD is primarily auto-oriented. Office developments are generally low-rise and commercial, and retail areas are strip or plaza style. Despite some diminished neighborhood access due to street network design, some office, retail and residential developments are readily accessible from proposed station sites. Parking outside the CBD is approximately 3.3 parking spaces per 1000 sq. ft. Major trip generators include the Oceana Naval Air Station, Pavilion Convention Center and the Virginia Beach Oceanfront Resort Area.

Future Plans and Policies: The City of Norfolk has undertaken some significant activities that are strongly supportive of transit-oriented development and urban redevelopment. Norfolk has recently revised zoning in station areas and other areas of downtown to facilitate higher-intensity commercial, residential, and/or mixed-use development. Within the corridor, employment growth is expected to keep pace with regional trends although residential growth will not; the greatest growth in the region is forecast to occur in Virginia Beach. Unlike Norfolk, however, the City of Virginia Beach, which has jurisdiction over 9 of the 13 stations, has not developed tools to facilitate transit-supportive development or indicated an interest in doing so. Aside from the planned Pembroke/CBD station area, no specific transit-supportive zoning policies are indicated in Virginia Beach. HRT is leading a planning effort to develop transit station area plans and design guidelines. The only parking policy identified is a plan to centralize parking and rely on transit shuttle circulation in the Virginia Beach Oceanfront area.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 45%

The HRT project financial plan proposes to use $288.5 million (55 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Start funds, $125.3 million (24 percent) in State funds, $81.3 million (15 percent) in local funds, and $29.4 million (6 percent) of Federal flexible and CMAQ funds. Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Low

The Low capital finance plan rating reflects the uncertainty of proposed funding to construct the proposed project.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: Total project capital needs are forecast to increase at an annual average rate of 10 percent between FY 1998 and FY 2017, reaching $171.9 million in one year during the height of construction. A proposed local gas tax is expected to provide for 23 percent of all ongoing system-wide capital needs beginning in FY 2001, in addition to providing 34 percent of the project’s non-New Starts capital costs. Without experience in projects of this magnitude, HRT may be challenged to maintain such a high level of expenditure.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: The project’s $525 million cost estimate is reasonable given its size and design, and assuming normal inflation and escalation. Delaying the project has been identified as a strategy to cover potential funding shortfalls, as well as additional debt financing, increased fares, and non-farebox revenues, e.g., joint development and concessions.

Existing and Committed Funding: No funding has been committed for the project. Approval of the Virginia General Assembly is required for use of any non-New Starts funding, i.e., state, local and Federal flexible and CMAQ funds. However, State financial support for the Norfolk-Virginia Beach Corridor LRT has not yet been pursued; HRT will work to attain a resolution of financial support, without indicating specific funding sources, during the January 2000 General Assembly. The Virginia Transportation Trust Fund is viewed as a reliable funding source if its use is designated for this project. Non-New Starts funds are Federal flexible and CMAQ monies requiring State approval and regional allocation.

New and Proposed Funding: The proposed local taxing authority (5 percent on retail gas prices), yet to be adopted, is subject to referendum and State Legislature approval; the financial implications of the recent failed Virginia Beach referendum in support of light rail is undetermined. This dedicated funding source would account for 15 percent of total project costs, representing 35 percent of non-New Starts funding. Up to $107 million (45 percent of non-new Starts funds) in State funding would be financed through debt service on a bond, which would support both the bulk of the State’s share and $60.5 million in local share of the project. The State and HRT would enter into a service contract for annual payments of $8.3 million by the State to support this bond; HRT intends to seek the annual appropriation to continue project development during the next General Assembly.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Low

The Low operating finance plan rating reflects substantial reliance on a proposed local gas tax, not yet adopted, and the lack of an average operating surplus (for TRT) to fund the project.

Agency Operating Financial Condition: The former TRT has experienced zero operating balances, on average, in recent years while achieving a 35 percent farebox recovery ratio. TRT system-wide operating costs are expected to increase from $24.3 million to $90.1 million over the 20-year period FY 1998 to FY 2017. The 7.1 percent annual growth rate is reasonable given the planned operation of the LRT and ongoing bus expansion. Although TRT ridership has been increasing, LRT operating costs are estimated to comprise 20 percent of overall operating costs in outyears. Projected bus operations fare revenues are to provide approximately 24 percent of ongoing revenues; however, the expected growth rate is higher than historical growth. Over 24 percent of ongoing operating needs are to be funded through the proposed local gas tax.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operations and maintenance costs are estimated at $12 million for the project, potentially low for its size. Contingencies include increased fares and non-farebox funding.

Existing and Committed Funding: Only fare revenues are identified as an existing operations funding source.

New and Proposed Funding: The proposed local gas tax would provide over 24 percent of all ongoing operating funds over the course of the twenty year cash flow.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $288.50 $10.91 million appropriated through FY 2000
CMAQ/STP $29.40


Bonds $107.00


General Appropriations $18.30


Regional Gas Tax $81.30


Total: $524.50

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

Map of a 13 station, 18.3-mile double track light rail transit (LRT) line from Downtown Virginia Beach (at the Pavilion) to Downtown Norfolk.

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact