A presentation on the proposed mid-tunnel expansion — a major transportation project close to Ghent that could bring light rail to Hampton Boulevard — will be made at the April 20, 2009, Ghent Neighborhood League meeting. Presenters will be Christopher Lloyd, senior vice president and director, Business Expansion Services, McGuireWoods Consulting, and Geoff Segal, vice president, government relations, Macquarie Capital (USA) Inc.
Under the auspices of Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act, a consortium of several companies — some local, some, as Macquarie, as far away as Australia — proposes to build a second mid-town tunnel, north of the existing one; modify the Brambleton/Hampton Boulevard intersection, maintain the downtown tunnel and extend the Portsmouth Martin Luther King Freeway.
Based on an earlier presentation to three league board members, the new tunnel would have two lanes, going from Norfolk toward Portsmouth; the old, refurbished tunnel also would have two lanes and go from Portsmouth to Norfolk. The new tunnel reportedly would not require much modification on the Norfolk side nor would it require demolition of existing houses; the old tunnel, with a link to MLK Freeway, would result in the demolition of eight houses on the Portsmouth side. Construction — a four-year project — would impact Norfolk less than Portsmouth since materials will be barged over to a Portsmouth International Terminal site.
This project, while being presented publicly within the next weeks, ultimately requires the approval of the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), an approval that is near. According to the earlier presentation, all requisite permits already have been granted. Also, both Norfolk and Portsmouth already established “technical advisory committees;” City Manager Regina Williams and Mayor Paul Fraim are on the Norfolk committee and Mayor Fraim is said to be a staunch advocate.
The $1.5 billion project is to be financed through toll revenue from trips between Norfolk and Portsmouth, i.e. $2 to $3 dollar toll per trip for the next 50 years and up. Tolls, which may be lowered for low-income residents, will be collected via EZ passes or cameras recording license plates; trucks will pay triple the amount.
Additional monies for the project are said to come from equity bonds, private equity bonds and federally-sponsored monies.
A second mid-town tunnel is expected to be at full capacity right after its opening; however, with planned port terminal changes (more containers at Portsmouth, therefore less truck traffic on Hampton Boulevard), truck traffic on Hampton Boulevard is expected to go down. The new tunnel could accommodate a Light Rail spur but the consortium has not made a decision on this yet and leaves it up to the local communities. Technically, however, it can accommodate a light rail spur but the tunnels would lose a lane.
The consortium reportedly received conflicting information from Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) and the City of Norfolk on proposed Light Rail spurs from downtown to ODU/NOB; its most recent information was an HRT presentation to the Virginia Legislature that endorsed a spur via Newtown Road, not Hampton Boulevard.
This contradicts http://www.hamptonroadstransitplan.com, a Web site that clearly envisages light rail for Hampton Boulevard.
Monday’s presentation to the league will be the only one made to Ghent residents; the only city-wide public comment hearing will be on April 22, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., in the Norfolk City Council chambers.