Route options for Peninsula mass transit system released

Theresa Clift
Contact Reportertclift@dailypress.com
Newport News councilwoman asks for more routes to serve Southeast

Hampton Roads Transit Tuesday released a dozen possible routes for a mass transit system in Newport News and Hampton, which will eventually be whittled down to two or three.

The mass transit system could travel north and south along Warwick Boulevard, Jefferson Avenue, or, as Newport News has proposed, between the two, adjacent to the CSX railroad tracks, with deviations into City and Tech centers, an ongoing HRT Peninsula Corridor Study found.

The system could travel east and west to connect the two cities along West Pembroke Avenue, Victoria, Mercury, and Magruder boulevards, and their Newport News counterparts, the study found.

To go diagonally, the system would have few options other than traveling along Interstate 64, most likely in the existing shoulder, said Samantha Sink, a transit development planner for HRT. The system could travel along I-64's entirety in the two cities, or just from Thomas Nelson Community College to the Oyster Point Road exit, the study found.

Those routes could be traveled by a mass transit system that will likely be bus rapid transit but could also be light rail (like The Tide in Norfolk) or streetcars, HRT officials have said. That will be determined by the time the consultants' study wraps up this summer.

Bus rapid transit, or "light rail on wheels," travels faster than regular buses because it allows buses to mainly travel in their own designated right of way. They can also share the road with regular traffic at some points.

If the system traveled along existing local roads, either a new lane would be built or an existing one would be converted to a "transit-only" lane, said Sink. Transit-only lanes are sometimes raised, separated by dividers or painted a different color.

"Don't get scared that we're taking lanes away form cars necessarily, it's just a way to evaluate all the alternatives (using the existing streets)," Sink told a handful of attendees at a public hearing on the topic held in Newport News Tuesday.

Many of the proposed routes would provide service to the downtowns of both cities, Hampton Coliseum area, Peninsula Town Center, Sentara Complex, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton University, Newport News Shipbuilding, Tech and City centers, Patrick Henry Mall and the future Newport News transportation center in the north section of the city.

Some of the proposed routes would also hit TNCC, Langley Air Force Base, Fort Monroe, Christopher Newport University, Buckroe Beach and the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.

Newport News Councilwoman Saundra Cherry said she was disappointed none of the proposed routes traveled to the heart of the Southeast Community, where many residents rely heavily on public transportation.

All the proposed north-south routes stop at the Apprentice School, at 41st Street and Washington Avenue, while one goes to 27th Street and Washington Avenue — both on the "downtown" side of Interstate 664. The southernmost east-west route travels along 27th Street and Victoria Boulevard.

"To me, that's an insult to my community," Cherry said during the public hearing at Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center in the Southeast. "Let the long-range plan include a community that is often ignored."

Gaylene Kanoyton, of Hampton, who was recently appointed to HRT's Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads, agreed with Cherry.

Sink said HRT came up with the proposed routes from public input from previous public hearings and would consider stretching the Jefferson Avenue route down to include more of the Southeast.

Bill Whitley, who lives in Isle of Wight and works at City Center, said he liked the north-south routes the best, especially the one along Jefferson Avenue.

"I don't ride the bus now because it would take me three buses to get to work," he said, adding he would take mass transit if it provided easy access to City Center.

Jamie Battle, who lives in Portsmouth but travels to the Peninsula, said he liked the Newport News-proposed route along the CSX tracks the best, since he thinks it would be the fastest.

The hope is that the mass transit system would attract millennials and new companies to the Peninsula, decrease congestion and accommodate population growth. HRT is also asking the public to weigh in on which of those goals they consider to be the most important.

"We're very against just going in to our smoke-filled room and coming out with the answer," Sink said.

In November, the route options will be narrowed down to about six, and then to the the final two or three over the winter, Sink said. In late spring/early summer, the staffs and elected officials of both cities will weigh in.

The process is still in the beginning stages; construction is at least five years out, and riding it is at least 10 years out, Sink said.

Clift can be reached by phone at 757-247-7870.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette

More Peninsula mass transit public hearings coming up:

  • Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m., Denbigh Community Center, 15198 Warwick Blvd. in Newport News
  • Oct. 13, 6 to 8 p.m., Hampton Roads Convention Center, 1610 Coliseum Drive in Hampton

Can't attend? Email comments or questions to peninsulacorridorstudy@hrtransit.org.

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