Over the last 30 years we’ve seen occur in Hampton Roads that lead people to question their use of personal vehicles, particularly the increase in congestion, unpredictable and lengthy delays and high gasoline prices.
Over the last 30 years we’ve seen occur in Hampton Roads that lead people to question their use of personal vehicles,
particularly the increase in congestion, unpredictable and lengthy delays and high gasoline prices. As a result, more and more citizens say they would like to have other choices. Yet alternate modes of transportation are not available or practical for many Hampton Roads citizens. Last year Cathy Lewis of WHRV’s HearSay program chronicled the delays and other travails she encountered trying to use HRT’s express bus service between Norfolk and Hampton. Citizens with tighter time constraints can hardly be expected to endure such hardship.
Yet our local zoning codes encourage use of personal vehicles by requiring building owners, even those in downtown areas, to provide ample parking. McArthur Center Mall, the new Wachovia Tower and the town centers in Virginia Beach and Newport News are just four examples of how this requirement adds tens of millions of dollars to the cost of these buildings and the cost of doing business there. In many cases, these requirements further require local taxpayers to co-sign the debt cities take on to build or subsidize parking for new office buildings, hotels and other commercial developments.
Invest for the Future, Not to Repeat the Past
Citizens expect elected leaders to be fiscally responsible, as well as honest and foresighted in preparing cities and counties for the future. For citizens to feel confident in making changes in their own driving habits, they need to see a solid and practical plan for building the transportation system of the 21st century. They also need to have confidence that the plan will be managed responsibly and that funds dedicated to it will be used prudently.
Several local initiatives demonstrate how a regional transportation system plan worthy of public support can be developed: The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) is currently working on the federally mandated 2034 Long Range Transportation Plan. Development of this plan will include more opportunities for Hampton Roads citizens to have input than ever before.
- The City of Virginia Beach’s Envision Transportation initiative invites residents to help define the City’s transportation future. This project could easily be scaled up to a regional level to address regional transportation issues.
- HRT is understandably focused, at least in the short term, on cleaning house, keeping its network of buses maintained and running and getting the Norfolk starter light rail project finished. After that, however, HRT planners should be key players in developing a new regional transportation plan.
- The Hampton Roads Partnership has taken the lead in proposing a regional transportation vision. It’s a bold vision and may be worthy of public support. But it will require greater citizen involvement to gain the necessary credibility and momentum to carry it to the next step of implementation.
An Example We Can Follow
Last summer the citizens of the Seattle area welcomed the opening of the first sections of their light rail system. There were hiccups along the way, and not every citizen favored such a massive rail investment. But the project persisted because it was the culmination of a 20-year infrastructure development plan approved by Seattle-area citizens determined to change Seattle from an economically provincial region into a world-class metropolitan center.
There are many similarities between Seattle and Hampton Roads. Seattle has land and water challenges similar to Hampton Roads. It has good deepwater ports. Seattle’s commerce was historically based on the shipping of timber just as Hampton Roads’ was based on coal. The Seattle region also has a large defense and defense support presence, as well as large-scale manufacturing.
Seattle’s grand plan didn’t happen overnight. It took significant commitment and continued investment in an area hard hit at times by job loss. It took institutional support from local governments, major employers and civic groups. But already improvements made by this initiative have made life better for Seattle-area residents, made it easier to keep and attract good people and jobs and helped make Seattle not only a more competitive region domestically, but also a major player in the Pacific Rim economy.
If this can happen in Seattle, it can certainly happen in Hampton Roads. We can start today by deciding to build no new highways and instead use our talents and resources to develop a regional transportation infrastructure that meets the changing needs of our residents and serves as a tangible example to the world of what we are capable of in Hampton Roads.