As residents of Hampton Roads, we know we have something special. We have easy access to beautiful beaches, cities steeped in history, and we can spend the morning picking strawberries in Pungo and finish the night with a concert at the NorVa. We know Hampton Roads is a gem of the country, and we also know it’s a struggle to move around its facets.
Hampton Roads has serious transportation challenges, and no single project will be the silver bullet that solves our problems. It will take a multimodal transportation system, offering easy and convenient ways to travel around the region by car, bike, bus, ferry or light rail. Every year we fail to address our lack of transportation options is another year we slip behind the comparably sized regions we compete against to attract new businesses and investments.
The overarching mission of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is to set the conditions that allow businesses to succeed. Infrastructure is one of those conditions, and transportation is a large and important part of infrastructure. We want to ensure we can move people and products into and around the region in as many ways as possible if we are to successfully compete with such regions as Charlotte and Austin.
When we discuss extending light rail to Virginia Beach, we are not talking about merely an extension of three miles. We’re talking about taking a starter line in Norfolk to its next, most important phase, connecting the two largest cities in the region. We are talking about another critical step in improved regional connectivity. We believe when the system connects cities, it will create new opportunities for its citizens and for the region. Light rail is an important piece of a much larger ecosystem.
Creating a multimodal transportation system shows progress and vision. In a global economy, every region is competing for business, jobs and top talent. Investing in light rail, road improvements, bus service expansions and bike lanes shows we are open for business and ready to provide lifestyle choices for the next generation workforce. We’ve seen in the past decade that millennials, the largest living generation, prefer to live and work in places where they can reduce their reliance on car travel. Even as their generation ages, this will continue to be true for young professionals, who add vibrancy to cities and put them on the map as attractive spots to work, live and visit.
Light rail has been a successful enabler for economic development in cities across the world, and it’s proven, reliable technology. Many cities that added light rail recently – Charlotte, Phoenix and Minneapolis, have seen billions of dollars in new development created along the lines. Increasingly, businesses are trading large office parks for downtown or mixed-use locations. The New York Times reported in July that General Electric was leaving its 70-acre wooded campus in Fairfield, Conn. to move to downtown Boston.
We are already seeing proof of this locally. When ADP scouted Hampton Roads for a call center location, bringing 1,800 good-paying jobs to the region, the company chose downtown Norfolk in part because of its walk ability and access to light rail. Extending light rail to Town Center just makes sense, and it will really prove its worth as the system is extended even further over time to travel to the airport, the Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia Beach Convention Center, Old Dominion University and Chesapeake. As the system is further developed, use will increase. Residents of Hampton Roads will see how light rail offers an alternative to sitting in traffic, and a reliable arrival time.
Few transportation investments can deliver dividends. But light rail has the ability to spark new, concentrated development, attract new workers and new businesses and announce our region to the world as a destination to live, work and play. With light rail on the ballot in Virginia Beach as a referendum issue November 8th, we have an opportunity to create a vibrant and prosperous future for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. Let’s seize it!
President & CEO
Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce