By Bill Cresenzo
In 2012, Virginia Beach voters gave the go-ahead for the Virginia Beach City Council to study the prospect of extending Norfolk's light rail to Virginia Beach.
The question was: "Should the city council adopt an ordinance approving the use of all reasonable efforts to support the financing and development of the Tide light rail into Virginia Beach?"
More than 60 percent of voters answered "Yes."
Last week, the Virginia Beach City Council took the voters' blessing to heart - to the tune of $447,000.
The council voted to spend the money to hire consultants to study three light rail proposals.
The council voted to spend the $477,000 to hire Kimley-Horn and Associates, PRAG and Nossaman to study the proposals. The companies will handle the engineering, financial and legal aspects, respectively, of the proposals.
A task force will review the proposals and report its findings back to the council.
The three proposals - two of which council agreed last week to accept in addition to an earlier proposal - are from Parsons Construction Group, American Maglev Technology of Georgia and a partnership including
Phil Shucet, Skanska and AECOM.
Shucet's group submitted its proposal last April to extend light rail from Newtown Road to Rosemont Road.
The group puts the price tag for the project at $235 million. Shucet is a former Virginia Department of Transportation commissioner and former president and CEO of Hampton Roads Transit who took over the position to launch the Tide in Norfolk.
American Maglev Technology says it can extend light rail to the Oceanfront using magnetic solar-powered trains for $344 million. This would be the company's first public transportation project.
Parsons, based in California, is responsible for the construction of light rail systems in Los Angeles, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Houston, Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis.
Parsons said it can complete the project by 2020.
The company has overseen the construction of 11 light rail systems with a total cost of $5.6 billion.
The company is working on more than 2,000 projects and has 13,000 employees.
Councilman Jim Wood suggested rejecting
the American Maglev Technology proposal, saying the company hasn't proven itself capable of such a project because of its failed project at ODU in 1999.
The company said it's corrected the earlier problems that beset the project.
Councilman Glenn Davis said the council should not set a precedent by dismissing proposals before the city reviews them.
The Tide began rolling in Norfolk in August 2011 and ridership has exceeded projections of around 2,900 weekday boards.
However, the latest numbers from Hampton Roads Transit show ridership has dropped. For instance, HRT reported 144,000 boardings during September 2011 and 139,000 boardings during September 2013.
"The change in the GoPass365 program also diminished ridership this year somewhat," said Tom Holden, an HRT spokesman.
Earlier this year, HRT announced it would no longer provide free GoPass35 light rail tickets to local college and university students.
"Generally, we are well ahead of our first-year projections of 2,900 average daily weekday boardings in the first year of operation, and we're fast approaching the 20-year forecast of 7,200 average, daily weekday boardings," Holden said.