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Taking cars off Hampton Roads highways is the surest way to reduce traffic congestion, increase driver safety and ensure that economic growth in the area extending from Suffolk to Williamsburg doesn’t stall in the face of transportation problems.

Acknowledging that commuter rail is an essential solution to Tidewater’s traffic tangles, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization on Oct. 30 unanimously approved a plan to create a high-speed rail line between Petersburg–south of Richmond–and downtown Norfolk. The HRTPO also considered a proposal to put tracks that would accommodate trains traveling at up to 110 mph on the Peninsula, between Richmond and Newport News, but determined that the Southside course made more economic and logistical sense.

A significant selling point for the Southside route was that high-speed train passengers could deboard at Harbor Park and transfer to the soon-to-open Tide light-rail line.

The HRTPO is made up of senior officials from all the cities in Hampton Roads, and its decision represents the first significant step toward securing a share of $8 billion in high-speed rail development money the Federal Railroad Administration will distribute next year. The proposal to construct a new passenger rail line that parallels Rt. 460 and an existing Norfolk Southern freight line now must pass through a state planning board and public comment period before being forward to the FRA.

The editors of the Virginian-Pilot on Nov. 9 praised the TPO’s decision as "courageous." I wouldn’t go that far, but I absolutely consider high-speed passenger rail is a necessity for Hampton Roads.

At least a year of debate remains, of course, and the region has no guarantee of receiving federal assistance for construction costs. Plus, even if construction begins in 2011, any high-speed rail service to Hampton Roads might not begin until 2015. A delivery on promise of reduced traffic, safer roads and continued economic health will be worth the wait, however.

The best part to me of this news was the baby step toward cooperation among the cities in Tidewater. It was great that the mayor of Hampton helped a regional plan get made. As someone who lives in Norfolk but works in Virginia Beach, I can never understand why the leaders in Hampton Roads cannot get its act together to help solve traffic problems.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.


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