Tuesday, December 12

Good News For Norfolk And Richmond Anyway, But Will it Alleviate Traffic From I-64?

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A major thorn in the side of the beautiful experience of dealing with traffic in Hampton Roads is getting through the Peninsula to Richmond and the rest of the East Coast.  Seeing that I-64 is the primary means by which to get away from the madness of Hampton Roads you can imagine what a commute between Norfolk, which is at the beginning of the Southside you can imagine the fun.  Between going from two lanes, to four, to three, to four, to five or six, to two there are a lot of traffic backups.  On top of that we have HOV lanes that are under utilized, and you may or may not be able to drive on the shoulder plus there are no traffic lanes facilitating the flow of traffic from the exits onto the highway like you have in cities like Chicago or states like California.

If you live in the area and work in Richmond your only alternative is to use the Amtrak in Newport News.  The problem with that is getting to the train station in Newport News.  Richmond has two Amtrak stations, Hampton Roads has one in two different cities, Richmond or Williamsburg.  Expect to pay at least $20 one way to make this trip.  That can add up and is not cost effective as you are looking at $200 a week.  Driving from Norfolk to Richmond is a different matter. 

You can take I-64 West, but you can also take VA-10 West as well.  The latter can take up to an extra 40 minutes.  It’s a strange route.  The proposed link between Richmond and Norfolk involves running a train along US 460, a four lane highway that will actually take you from here all the way into West Virginia.  It is two lanes each direction.  Seeing how Richmond and Norfolk are the two cities that people think about when you talk about Virginia it makes sense for both areas to be connected.  This may also be another step towards bringing the two metropolitain areas together, and hopefully will get some of the people on I-64 towards Richmond off of that road. 

It would not be an issue if there were three of four lanes from this area towards Richmond, as there are going from Richmond to Washington DC.  The idea is that passengers would not just hit Richmond from here through the train, but also take the train from Richmond to Washington DC.  That route is expensive too; you can easily spend $40 each way.  Trains between cities in this region is a great idea but Amtrak is prohibitively expensive for most people.  People may opt to use the service to go from Richmond to Norfolk or Richmond to DC on occassion but you would not use it as your primary means of going between cities.

What is practical and would work is linking up the cities to each other by rail.  Currently The Tide is using the tried and true method of running the rail line along the highway in Norfolk up to the city limits of Virginia Beach.  When the line is built in Virignia Beach it would probably continue to run along the highway on old tracks that would be retrofitted to handle light rail.  If you consider that there are five highways in this region (I-64, I-264, I-464, I-564 and I-664) it is forseable that five lines could be built.  That would put us in the same boat as Washington DC, who has five lines and one under construction. 

Typically this approach would not matter but the way in which this area is built that would be the most practical solution.  Sinking the lines and creating a true subway is impractical, and even building overhead along areas that are not already being utilized for highways is impractical.  The former is impractical because of the flooding that occurs here and the latter is impractical because it would require eminent domain.  Highways also provide some type of visual reference because building lines in the air that are not in the vicinity of anything is just weird; but in any even it will be interesting to see how light rail plays out.  But there is still plenty of underutilized space on highways that are not fully built out as even I-64 goes from being a continous road that is seperated with a concrete median to a road that has a huge grass median in which cops can turn around and face towards the direction traffic is heading and hand out tickets.  Those medians would be excellent areas in which to run the train.

The only remaining issue would be to get people off of the train and across the highway so that they can walk towards their destination or take the bus to get where they are going.  The only way you are actually going to run the train underground would be with a third tunnel (either specifically for the train or for the train and automobiles).  But no one is going to take a shot at building tunnels through dry land specifically for the train as you see in other subway systems; it simply is not going to happen here.  The region could still have an interesting train system, but for that reason alone it is not going to have the look and feel of what you find in Washington DC. 

Then again nothing in Hampton Roads is like it is in Washington DC, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.  The Tide will be more like the line in Charlotte.  That line, The Linx, is still just one line, but there are proposals for other lines to be added to the system, though construction is not expected to be completed on everything that has been proposed until 2034.  I don’t know if it is going to take The Tide as long, but if it is ten years between the time that the first passengers ride the existing line and the completion of the second line one should not be suprised …


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