On April 23, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce held a joint meeting of nearly 70 members of both Boards of Directors. This meeting, at (VMASC) Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center in Suffolk, provided networking among the volunteer leadership of the two organizations, as well as an opportunity for the Chambers to address regional business issues and collaborate. The meeting was led by Deborah Stearns, Immediate Past Chair of the Hampton Roads Chamber, and Kasia Grzelkowski, Chair of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber. In the last several years, the two boards have conducted three additional joint meetings.
Guest speaker Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne provided an update on local and statewide transportation projects and legislative items. Layne discussed House Bill 2 (HB 2), which provides for the development of a prioritization process for projects funded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. Such prioritization shall weight factors such as congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, and environmental quality and be applied within each highway construction district. Layne said, “Prioritization is key. We will objectively look at projects and ask ‘Does this make sense?’” He explained that this is the six-year plan at identifying what projects will go through.
The second topic Layne discussed was the establishment of a Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission made up of the 14 local mayors and chairs, five legislators and four ex officio members. The Commission will give bonding authority to regional monies. Layne said, “This gives (commission) members the tools to develop projects here in Hampton Roads.” He likened it to being a developer of a construction projects. Layne told the group that regionalism is the top priority. Transportation project solutions are regionally based and affect all cities. For example, even though no major projects are slated in Virginia Beach, that city is greatly impacted economically if tourists can’t travel to Virginia Beach. Layne said, “This is the opportunity to help support the quality of life, our military and the economy.”
Several staff of the Port of Virginia were among the meeting’s attendees. Layne said, “We are focused on making this the best port in the country. It’s got to be sustainable.” He went on to say that we must diversify and enhance economic development across Hampton Roads.
Regarding light-rail, Layne said that the state has supported a seamless transportation system. Layne commented, “It makes sense to connect Norfolk with Virginia Beach. It makes sense to allocate dollars to this.” He said that the state is working well with Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms and council on the project. Layne said that Mayor Sessoms has agreed to the general terms for a state grant of $155 million for a light-rail extension into Virginia Beach.