Light Rail in Virginia

the first successful electrically-powered trolley was constructed in Richmond in 1888
the first successful electrically-powered trolley was constructed in Richmond in 1888
Source: "Rarely Seen Richmond," Virginia Commonwealth University James Branch Cabell Library Special Collections and Archives, Broad Str. Looking West Richmond, Va

The original light rail systems in Virginia were streetcars (trolleys). Prior to Frank Julian Sprague's development of the electrical traction system in Richmond, other streetcar systems had failed in over 60 other communities. The Richmond Union Passenger Railway set the example for future electrical-powered streetcar systems when it started operations in 1888, gradually replacing the horse-drawn trolleys in use since 1860. (Not all were converted; Waynesboro's trolley was drawn by a mule for its entire time of operation between 1892-1902.)1

in 1906, the Norfolk Portsmouth Traction Company operated on Main Street in Norfolk; The Tide is not the first trolley or light rail system there
in 1906, the Norfolk Portsmouth Traction Company operated on Main Street in Norfolk; "The Tide" is not the first trolley or light rail system there
Source: Library of Congress, View of Main Street, Norfolk, Va. (1906)

Streetcar systems were implemented nationwide in most urban areas with at least 10,000 people. The route of the lines was often based on where real estate developers sought to create new subdivisions; transit services have been designed from the beginning to facilitate the early form of suburban sprawl known as "streetcar suburbs."

In Virginia, streetcars operated in Charlottesville, Danville, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth, Petersburg, Radford, Richmond, Roanoke/Vinton, Staunton, and Tazewell for six decades. When Tazewell converted from mules/horses to electricity in 1904, it was "the smallest town in America with an electric street car."

After the system closed in 1933, the town's streetcar ended up as a hotdog stand in Bland County. Richmond maintained an electrically-powered streetcar system for the longest period, starting the state's first in 1888 and being the last to close down in 1949. Its old streetcars were burned to facilitate salvage of the metal in them.2

Private streetcar companies in Virginia closed down as cars became affordable, and as operating costs of urban rail systems climbed faster than revenues. By 1950, the bus and the private car became the new ways to commute to work. As shopping centers were developed in the suburbs, retail stores moved away from the downtown core.

The cost and time to implement a new bus route to a new destination, such as Azalea Mall or Willow Lawn in Richmond, was far less than the cost and time to build a new rail line. (General Motors and major tire/oil companies are often blamed for purchasing urban rail systems and closing them down, but Virginia's streetcar lines closed without getting involved in the supposed Great American Streetcar Scandal.)3

The gap in service before the modern revival of light rail in Virginia was six decades - the same length of time that electrically-powered streetcars operated, before Richmond shuttered its system in 1949. Light rail has been operational in Norfolk since 2011, when a 7.4-mile system called "The Tide" started operations. The construction costs were 150% of the estimates, making the project controversial. Initial operations attracted more customers than expected, but rideship declined as the newness faded.

To encourage more people to use the light rail system in Norfolk (and maintain popular support for extending the system), the Virginian-Pilot editorialized in 2014 that fares should be substantially reduced or eliminated. As the paper noted, a short light rail system limited to just downtown Norfolk would not eliminate commuter traffic or reduce congestion, and the system would be successful only if it triggered redevelopment along the route. More riders would equal more customers for businesses within 1/4 mile of the rail line; in theory, more riders on The Tide would spur new construction and remodeling of old buildings - so subsidizing transit customers would be in Norfolk's long-term economic interests.

A Cato Institute economist argued that the capacity of The Tide was inadequate to stimulate new growth in the area. As the Virginian-Pilot editorial writer noted, revenue from customers using The Tide was never expected to pay a high percentage of operating costs (and none of the capital costs to construct the light rail line). The economic benefits from the investment in transportation were projected to come from land use changes:4

Light rail's purpose, in Norfolk, is to bring development to Harbor Park and other places in the city, to attract businesses and customers downtown, to make the city's core the kind of place where more people want to live.

the initial 7.4 mile light rail system in Norfolk provides transit services downtown, with extensions proposed to the Norfolk Naval Station and to Town Center/Oceanfront in Virginia Beach
the initial 7.4 mile light rail system in Norfolk provides transit services downtown, with extensions proposed to the Norfolk Naval Station and to Town Center/Oceanfront in Virginia Beach
Source: Hampton Roads Transit, Norfolk Light Rail Transit Project - Final Environmental Impact Statement

Extensions northwest to the Norfolk Naval Station, and east into Virginia Beach, are under active consideration. In 2010, anticipating future extension of "The Tide" as far as the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach purchased the 10.6-mile right-of-way owned by Norfolk Southern railroad. The state provided 50% of the $40 million purchase price.

In 2012, city oficials endorsed and 62% of the voters in Virginia Beach supported extending light rail from Norfolk into the city. That decision was in contrast to rejection of a light rail system in 1989 by city officials and by voters in a 1999 referendum. Those decisions killed plans for a joint Norfolk/Virginia Beach project and led to "The Tide" being built only to the Norfolk/Virginia Beach border, but the potential for extension was always clear.

In 2014, state officials committed to fund 50% of a proposed $290 million, three-mile transit extension to Town Center in Virginia Beach. City officials have consciously steered dense development to Town Center, creating a traffic nightmare in the short term but potentially growing into an urban downtown that would be less-dependent upon the automobile.

Like The Tide, the primary purpose of ight rail in Virginia Beach is to stimulate transit-oriented development, not to improve the flow of traffic or streamline the commute to work. Virginia's Secretary of Transportation noted in 2015:5

I'll be the first to admit that light rail is not going to reduce congestion.

Virginia Beach is creating a downtown at the Town Center, and light rail is expected to spur additional dense development there
Virginia Beach is creating a downtown at the Town Center, and light rail is expected to spur additional dense development there
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

One commentator noted that a direct route to the Atlantic Ocean hotel/resort area could have avoided the jog north to Town Center, but "light rail bypassing Town Center would be urban planning malpractice." In addition, the state's commitment to support the extension required the city to postpone planning to build a line further eastward to the resort hotels at the oceanfront. A line east of Town Center would require building through streams and wetlands, while the stretch to Town Center involved fewer environmental complications.6

alternatives considered for the light rail extension from Norfolk into Virginia Beach included options beyond Town Center to the resort area at the Atlantic Ocean
alternatives considered for the light rail extension from Norfolk into Virginia Beach included options beyond Town Center to the resort area at the Atlantic Ocean
Source: Library of Congress, Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study - Executive Summary (Figure ES.0-1)

Virginia Beach officials had considered using maglev technology rather than simply extending the light rail system, based on claims that a maglev system would be less expensive to build and operate compared to light rail. New maglev lines operating in Japan and China have demonstrated that the technology is feasible, and American Maglev Technology submitted a proposal to build a 12-mile transit system from the last station of "The Tide" in Newtown to the Atlantic Ocean.

The company offered to build a pilot line at company expense near the waterfront, to link the Virginia Beach Convention Center to the old site of the Dome. American Maglev Technology claimed its system, to be called "The Wave," would cost 2/3 less than building a 12-mile light rail system all the way to the resort area.7

light rail extensions beyond The Tide are part of a long-range regional transit plan that could require customers to shift modes from light rail, ferry, high-speed rail, streetcars, and potentially even a maglev system
light rail extensions beyond "The Tide" are part of a long-range regional transit plan that could require customers to shift modes from light rail, ferry, high-speed rail, streetcars, and potentially even a maglev system
Source: Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation "Hampton Roads Regional Transit Vision Plan," Short-Term Implementation Recommendations (By 2025) (Figure ES-1)

That company had built an elevated guideway in 2001 at Old Dominion University to demonstrate maglev technology, and in 2003 the long-term vision included building a maglev line to Washington DC and hauling cargo containers from the Port of Virginia. However, the technology demonstration was a failure, the Federal government stopped supporting the project, and the university chose to cannibalize the track and sell it as scrap in 2010 to fund continued research.

Because of the failed test at Old Dominion University, state officials opposed any plan to use maglev technology. In order to obtain the state commitment for 50% of the $290 million required to link "The Tide" to Town Center, Virginia Beach officials agreed to stop negotiating public-private proposals (including the maglev proposal) and committed to competitive bidding. That essentially killed the maglev option for extending "The Tide" from the Norfolk boundary to Town Center, and American Maglev Technology refocused on building a system in Orlando.

If Virginia Beach ever chooses a maglev system, it will not get the discount price for being the first demonstration site. Nonetheless, in 2015 the city updated plans to build a light rail system to Town Center. Costs increased to $310 million, and the state committed providing $155 million (plus up to $30 million more in loans). Virginia Beach kept open the possibility of building further east from Town Center to the resort area on the Oceanfront, and even using a maglev line on that segment. The potential eastward extension to the transit system was projected to cost $1.3 billion.8

By 2016, a 3.5-mile extension from Norfolk to Town Center, with three new stations, was projected to cost $243 million. In a referendum that year, Virginia Beach voters rejected by 57-43% the proposal to fund that extension of The Tide to Town Center. In 1999, the vote had been 56% against funding, but public opinion shifted by 2012 when 62% had supported an extension.

The 2012 vote re-started serious planning, and in 2015 the City Council in Virginia Beach passed a 1.8-cent real estate tax increase with the funds dedicated to pay for light rail. An advocacy group in favor of a network of light rail lines made clear in the 2016 referendum vote that a regional transit system was anticipated:9

Myth #1: This vote on Nov. 8th is just about a 3.5-mile extension from Newtown Road to Town Center.

Reality: This vote is the next step in creating the needed "spine" of our regionís 21st century multimodal transportation system, connecting the oceanfront to ODU, Naval Base, and the Airport.

Light rail will connect the Virginia Beach's oceanfront and Town Center to downtown Norfolk, ODU, the Naval Bases, and the airport. From this spine, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and high-speed ferries will link all of the other communities that make up the Hampton Roads region.

plans for an interconnected light rail system extended from the Oceanfront of Virginia Beach to Greenbriar in the City of Chesapeake - until Virginia Beach voters rejected funding in 2016
plans for an interconnected light rail system extended from the Oceanfront of Virginia Beach to Greenbriar in the City of Chesapeake - until Virginia Beach voters rejected funding in 2016
Source: Virginia Beach Connex

After the 2016 vote, the state made clear that the extension was dead and withdrew its commitment to provide $155 million. The state also indicated the city had to reimburse the $20 million provided earlier to purchase the railroad right-of-way.9

In 1996, the City of Chesapeake city council voted in favor of a light rail system. Voters supported it in a 2000 referendum, but no funding was available. The city council declined to provide even partial funding for a light rail study in 2010.

In 2014, after "The Tide" successfully attracted riders and the 2013 General Assembly had approved new taxes to fund transportation projects in Hampton Roads, the Chesapeake city council reconsidered and asked the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization to study how to bring light rail to Chesapeake.

the City of Chesapeake connection to The Tide light rail at Harbor Park in Norfolk (brown line) will require crossing the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River
the City of Chesapeake connection to "The Tide" light rail at Harbor Park in Norfolk (brown line) will require crossing the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River
Source: City of Chesapeake, 2050 Master Transportation Plan

Chesapeake's long-range plan is to extend light rail from its northern border with the City of Norfolk south through its Urban, Suburban, and Rural areas to the North Carolina border. The city plans for light rail to move commuters from North Carolina to urban job centers, as well as to spur transit-oriented development in the 70 acres next to Dollar Tree headquarters that were planned for urban-level density.

The 2011 Hampton Roads Regional Transit Vision Plan proposed building a commuter rail system rather than light rail south of Greenbrier. That proposed commuter rail line would extend from Harbor Park south to Fentress, but the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation left open the possibility of future expansion into North Carolina.

Though different types of transit were proposed in different long-range land use and transportation plans, the various documents made clear where the state/city proposed to invest in transportation infrastructure over the next 20-40 years, allowing developers to propose projects based on the potential of new transit services.10

in the 2011 Hampton Roads Regional Transit Vision Plan, the long-range vision for Chesapeake included extending light rail in Corridor N between Harbor Park-Greenbrier, then build commuter rail in Corridor P between Harbor Park-Fentress
in the 2011 Hampton Roads Regional Transit Vision Plan, the long-range vision for Chesapeake included extending light rail in Corridor N between Harbor Park-Greenbrier, then build commuter rail in Corridor P between Harbor Park-Fentress
Source: Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation "Hampton Roads Regional Transit Vision Plan," Overall Regional Transit Vision Plan (Figure ES-4)

Another alternative to light rail is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). BRT systems are designed to mimic rail systems, with tickets purchased in advance before boarding the bus. Bus platforms are level with the bus itself, eliminating the steps required to board from traditional curbside bus stops. Most significantly, BRT routes use dedicated lanes to bypass traffic congestion.

BRT vehicles resemble passenger rail cars and create the impression of a premium transportation service suitable for middle-class passengers, in contrast to the reputation of local buses being the transportation system for the poor. The buses are powered by internal combustion engines; unlike light rail and old trolley systems, no unsightly overhead power lines are required.

The primary advantage of BRT systems over light rail is that construction costs are lower. The primary advantage of BRT systems over traditional bus systems is that BRT vehicles reach their destination faster than traditional buses trapped in traffic on regular highway lanes, thanks to the special lanes used only by BRT vehicles.

Richmond is planning a 7.6 mile Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit project, creating a new transit route from Rocketts Landing on the eastern edge of downtown to the West End shopping center at Willow Lawn. By using three miles of dedicated BRT lanes, built parallel to the existing Broad Street, passengers using the BRT line would travel one-third faster, at 13mph rather than 8mph. That speed would save 14 minutes per trip from end-to-end (assuming any residents in the new apartments/condominiums built on the eastern edge of downtown needed to travel to Willow Lawn...).

Congestion relief on I-64 was cited as one justification for requesting $50 million in Federal/state funding to construct the new lanes and purchase the buses. Local sources would fund 25% of the initial construction costs, but 100% percentage of operating costs.11

The choice of BRT technology in Richmond reflected both physical contraints and basic objectives for the project. The trolley network built in the 1880's demonstrated clearly that Richmond's hilly topography was not a barrier to a rail transit system, but 130 years later there was no room available on the city's congested street network for a light rail line.

The other alternative was expansion of the Glenside Express Bus service, which would be the most cost-effective way to reduce commuter-generated congestion on I-64 between downtown Richmond and the West End suburbs. However, improving that transit service would provide no land use benefits.

A BRT system along the Board Street Corridor can service customers moving between 14 stations, rather than just commuters living in the West End. The infrastructure investment in building the BRT line was projected to create a perception that transit services would be provided permanently, triggering increased investment by private sector landowners near the route. The "BRT effect" was expected to catalyze development along Board Street, especially west of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), as well as increase access to downtown redevelopment projects such as the proposed baseball stadium in Shockoe Valley.12

Richmond chose to use a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system rather than light rail to expand transit service between downtown and the wealthy West End suburbs
Richmond chose to use a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system rather than light rail to expand transit service between downtown and the wealthy West End suburbs
Source: Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) study, Map of Study Area

Limiting the BRT system in Richmond to primarily the city, with just the Willow Lawn station in Henrico County and the Staples Mill station on the city/county border, minimized regional politics and eliminated any need to negotiate with Chesterfield County. Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico are part of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA), which focuses on toll roads and excludes bus service from its portfolio.

There are few regional transportation initiatives, and the bus system (GRTC Transit System) is managed separately. Efforts to revise membership on the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA) board, to provide equal representation from each jurisdiction while compensating Richmond for previous investments in public parking garages and other infrastructure, failed in the 2013 General Assembly session. Membership was balanced and the organization renamed the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the 2014 session.13

In contrast, Arlington and Fairfax counties in Northern Virginia cooperated to propose a light rail project for five miles along Columbia Pike to link Skyline Towers at Bailey's Crossroads (in Fairfax County) to the Pentagon City Metro station (in Arlington County). The separate Crystal City project in just Arlington County would have built an extension through Crystal City, past Reagan National Airport to Potomac Yard/Glebe Road. Both "streetcar" projects required overhead power lines.

The routes of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar lines were chosen to maximize land use benefits, more than to reduce congestion - though with 17,000 passengers traveling in one direction or the other each day, Columbia Pike had the busiest bus route in Virginia.

Buses were consistently crowded and local population was projected to grow 20% in the next decade after the streetcar project was proposed, so it was clear that transportation demand would exceed the capacity of the existing bus-based transit system.14

Though a streetcar might improve transit, so could enhanced bus capacity. The primary goal of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar lines was to trigger redevelopment. After land use changed along the corridor, property and other taxes were projected to increase sufficiently to justify the public investment.15

An Arlington County consultant predicted that the Columbia Pike streetcar would spur private landowners to finance upgrades and construct new buildings, just as Metrorail triggered redevelopment for decades after the 1970's. In 30 years, estimated costs of $450 million for the Columbia Pike streetcar ($250 million for initial construction, $200 million more for operations) would be offset by a projected increase in tax revenues of $455 million-$1.5 billion.16

as proposed, light rail through Crystal City would have designated travel lanes and ocasionally share the streets with cars/buses in mixed traffic lanes
as proposed, light rail through Crystal City would have designated travel lanes and ocasionally share the streets with cars/buses in mixed traffic lanes
Source: Crystal City Streetcar, October 2013 Newsletter

The first stage in construction of the Crystal City line required building dedicated lanes for buses. The 4.5 mile Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, marketed initially as the "Metroway" with lighter-tinted pavement and distinctive blue glass shelters, provided a bus rapid transit (BRT) link between the Braddock Road-Crystal City Metrorail stations. (The City of Alexandria planned to add an additional transit connection, agreeing to build dedicated bus lanes between the planned Glebe Road streetcar station in Arlington and the Braddock Road Metrorail station in Alexandria.)

The Crystal City Streetcar was proposed as another link, connecting the Crystal City-Pentagon City Metrorail stations on the surface. Passengers interested in traveling between the Glebe Road-Pentagon City Metrorail stations would have an alternative to Metro, but passengers would have to switch at Glebe Road from bus to streetcar.

Such "mode shifts" are inconvenient, and traffic engineers recognize that many passengers would rather drive a car between two points than wait at a transit station midway in a trip. Travelers in the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway will have an unusual set of transit choices, however - passengers going between the Braddock Road-Crystal City Metrorail stations could take the Metro train instead, offering a direct transit connection without a mode shift.

The Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway required nearly $40 million to create new lanes for buses, but for some stretches the buses are mixed in with regular traffic and in other stretches cars will be banned from regular lanes so buses get priority. Drivers in cars may object to losing some access, but transportation planners viewed the busway as a quick solution, and in the case of Arlington a fast start towards the ultimate light rail:17

These ideas for bus priority and bus rapid transit give us a way of improving transit service incrementally and in a relatively short period of time... and it is less costly than building rail.

The proposed Columbia Pike line would have cost over $300 million, but improved bus service was projected to cost just 25% of that amount. That dramatic cost difference triggered extensive public debate over whether a lower-cost bus system would be perceived as persistent enough to trigger the "BRT effect" among landowners. All transit projects large enough to affect land use patterns over the next 10-30 years involve substantial expense. Advocates for the Columbia Pike streetcar noted that Phase 1 of the Silver Line Metrorail expansion cost 800% more than the proposed Columbia Pike project, but will move only 230% more people.18

The Columbia Pike line was also controversial because the first bus stop that was planned to serve until the streetcar became operational cost $900,000 to build. There were 24 stations planned, with heated concrete floors but with a shelter design that did not provide protection from the rain or sun. The "million dollar bus stops" were redesigned a year later, to reduce costs by 40% and to provide more shelter from rain/sun.19

In an April 2014 special election, an Independent/Republican opponent of light rail became the first non-Democrat elected to the Arlington Board since 1999. The winner campaigned primarily on the cost of rail vs. bus service, and clearly struck a chord among voters.

The defeated Democrat ran again in the November 24 regular election, and limited his support for the Columbia Pike steeetcar. He called for a public referendum on the issue and agreed to follow public opinion, though his personal advocacy of the new transit system was still clear:20

Voters clearly didn't understand why it was the right investment at the right time... The issue doesn't lend itself to a 30-second sound bite, but the billions in economic development that it will bring will help pay for our overcrowded schools.

after the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway along Jefferson Davis Highway was funded, owners of the 13-acre Oakville Triangle initiated planning to convert the industrial area into a mixed-use project with retail shops on the ground floor, topped by residential units and a hotel
after the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway along Jefferson Davis Highway was funded, owners of the 13-acre Oakville Triangle initiated planning to convert the industrial area into a mixed-use project with retail shops on the ground floor, topped by residential units and a hotel
Source: City of Alexandria, Aerial showing the Oakville Triangle and Route 1 Corridor Study proposed boundary

the light-rail Columbia Pike transit project was projected to result in lower development densities than what the heavy rail Orange Line triggered in Rosslyn-Ballston corridor
the light-rail Columbia Pike transit project was projected to result in lower development densities than what the heavy rail Orange Line triggered in Rosslyn-Ballston corridor
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

In May 2014, after the special election won by the opponent of the Columbia Pike streetcar, Arlington County announced that the projected cost of the streetcar line had increased to $358 million. That was $100 million above the initial estimate, made two years earlier. In between the two estimates, the Federal government cited projected cost as a major reason for rejecting Arlington's request for funding from the Small Starts grant program. The Federal government had estimated the project would cost $310 million, exceeding the limit of the grant program ($250 million).21

In July, 2014, the price was fixed at $333 million. It dropped because the state of Virginia agreed to provide $65 million more in financial support, which eliminated the need for Federal funding. Avoiding the delays in the Federal grant process would speed up construction by a year, thus eliminating $25 million of costs due to reduced time for inflation. It also facilitated an irrevocable commitment of funds to build the streetcar, before the slim majority on the County Board supporting light rail could be altered in the November 2015 election.

A preliminary engineering contract worth $26 million was approved by a 3-2 vote in September 2014. However, the anti-streetcar Independent/Republican candidate was re-elected in November, 2014, in an election where the majority of voters split their tickets to vote for Democratic candidates running for other offices. The extent of local opposition to light-rail on Columbia Pike was clear.

Less than two weeks after the election, the Arlington Board decided to abandon plans for both the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar line. Fairfax Couny officials were frustrated at the unilateral decision, leaving the Skyline Towers complex without rail transit services again. (Plans to build Metrorail to Skyline Towers had been abandoned in the 1970's.)22

One commentator very familiar with the link between transportation and land use, James Bacon, suggested a way to resolve the dispute over whether the public investment in the Columbia Pike streetcar would repay its cost through increased economic activity and higher tax revenues. His proposal: transfer the risk. Instead of having Arlington County taxpayers finance the light rail project, create a special tax district, sell revenue bonds to fund construction, and have the property owners pay an extra tax for the length of time (20-30 years) required to repay the bonds.

Under that scenario, property owners near the light rail stations, who were expected to benefit from the increased transit services, would pay more than property owners nearby - but Arlington landowners outside the tax district would pay no extra taxes to fund the streetcar project. Purchasers of the bonds, not residents of Arlington County, would make a profit if the extra tax revenues triggered by redevelopment matched projections Otherwise, if extra tax revenues were not high enough to repay costs plus interest for building the Columbia Pike streetcar, the bondholders rather than Arlington County taxpayers would suffer financially.23

the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway was designed to parallel the Metrorail route, so the additional transit services would spur additional development in Alexandria/Arlington
the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway was designed to parallel the Metrorail route, so the additional transit services would spur additional development in Alexandria/Arlington
Source: Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transit Improvements, Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway Sections

Additional light rail projects may be constructed in Northern Virginia.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority's Transaction 2014 long-range plan proposed $1.5 billion to construct a light rail line on Route 28 from Manassas to Dulles Airport - as much as the proposed extension of the Blue Line to Potomac Mills. That was more than the $1.2 billion proposed to extend the Orange Line to Gainesville, or the $1.2 billion proposed to build a new Blue Line Metrorail tunnel into Georgetown with 9 new stations.

by the year 2040, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation predicted Medium High population density (16-39 people/employees per acre) would justify light rail or Bus Rapid Transit service between Alexandria-Woodbridge - but not heavy rail such as Metrorail
by the year 2040, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation predicted "Medium High" population density (16-39 people/employees per acre) would justify light rail or Bus Rapid Transit service between Alexandria-Woodbridge - but not heavy rail such as Metrorail
Source: Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation - Super NoVa Transit/TDM Vision Plan, Subregional Corridor Demographic Analysis (Figure 5.5)

Transaction 2014 also proposed $500 million to build rail transit on Route 7 from Tysons Corner to Baileys Crossroads (extending the Columbia Pike streetcar), another $500 million to build a light rail connection over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to connect the Eisenhower Avenue station in Alexandria with the Branch Avenue Metrorail station in Prince Georges County, and $1.1 billion to link Bethesda to Fairfax Hospital via Dunn Loring.24

a light rail link between Alexandria and southern Maryland could also be developed as a heavy rail route, part of the proposed Brown Line for Metrorail
a light rail link between Alexandria and southern Maryland could also be developed as a heavy rail route, part of the proposed Brown Line for Metrorail
Source: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) - Regional Transit System Plan (RTSP)Summary of Projects, Plans, and Strategies Analyzed As Part of the RTSP

A Multimodal Alternatives Analysis on Route 1 in Northern Virginia, from the Capital Beltway (I-495/I-95) for 15 miles south to Woodbridge in Prince William County, considered light rail in the highway median strip as one transit option. In a public meeting in 2014, the local representative to the House of Delegates and the local county supervisor expressed different technology preferences.

The member of the Board of County Supervisors noted that light rail in the Route 1 corridor was feasible, but dreams of extending the Yellow Line of Metrorail south to Fort Belvoir were not cost-effective because the population density was not sufficient to generate enough ridership to justify the investment. In contrast, the local delegate advocated the "heavy rail" option:25

I don't think having a light rail system running down the middle of a six-lane, 45 mile-per-hour highway is an attractive option for people, plus studies show it is the most expensive option for riders out of all the options... I think our long-term objective should be extending the yellow line down Route 1 through Fort Belvoir

A Letter to the Editor of the Mount Vernon Gazette from an architect made clear that the heavy rail option was desired by some advocates because Metrorail would be more effective that light rail or buses at stimulating dense urban growth in the area. Heavy rail could also transport more passengers than a light rail or bus system, but that was a secondary factor:26

In my opinion only Metro (ie. heavy rail) has the strength and regional connection to provide the catalytic thrust and transformational growth that will be required to move this area towards a long-term prosperous future...

Light rail is an enticing option, financially and aesthetically, but in other locales where it works (Portland for example), there is sufficient density in the defined urban core to complete and complement the functional ensemble. I doubt that light rail here would attract the scale and type of development needed to catalyze and sustain the needed transformation in Mt. Vernon. Likewise, more buses on Rte. 1 may serve the existing suburban population better, but their use would not likely attract or compel the population and outside investment to create or sustain a dynamic urban environment analogous to what will occur with Metro.

new transit options on Route 1 in southeastern Fairfax County include light rail
new transit options on Route 1 in southeastern Fairfax County include light rail
Source: Route 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis, Powerpoint slides from from Public Meeting #1 (October 9, 2013)

Links

the City of Chesapeake has proposed extending light rail (brown line) beyond its planned Urban area, through its Suburban and Rural areas all the way to the North Carolina border
the City of Chesapeake has proposed extending light rail (brown line) beyond its planned Urban area, through its Suburban and Rural areas all the way to the North Carolina border
Source: City of Chesapeake, 2050 Master Transportation Plan

the Columbia Pike lightrail system is designed to be extended through Crystal City, linking mixed-use developments between the Pentagon City Metrorail station and Glebe Road
the Columbia Pike lightrail system is designed to be extended through Crystal City, linking mixed-use developments between the Pentagon City Metrorail station and Glebe Road
Source: Crystal City Streetcar Project, Streetcar Route Map

References

1. "Richmond Union Passenger Railway, 1888," IEEE Global History Network, http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Milestones:Richmond_Union_Passenger_Railway,_1888; "Letís Hear It For The Mule," Waynesboro Heritage Foundation and Museums, August 1st, 2014, http://www.waynesboroheritagefoundation.com/lets-hear-mule/ (last checked August 2, 2014)
2. "List of streetcar systems in the United States," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_streetcar_systems_in_the_United_States#Virginia; "You've Missed the Last Trolley," Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 27, 1949, republished at Richmond Then and Now, http://richmondthenandnow.com/Newspaper-Articles/Last-Trolley.html; "History," Town of Tazewell, http://www.townoftazewell.org/history/; Louise B. Leslie, Terry W. Mullins, Tazewell, Arcadia Publishing, 2006, p.38, http://books.google.com/books?id=wPhRS6l-Rb0C (last checked April 29, 2014)
3. "National City Lines," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_City_Lines; Cliff Slater, "General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars," Transportation Quarterly, Vol. 51. No. 3 (Summer 1997), Eno Transportation Foundation. Inc., http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/12129472/general-motors-demise-streetcars (last checked April 29, 2014)
4. "Slash fares on Norfolk's Tide," The Virginian-Pilot, August 24, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/08/slash-fares-norfolks-tide; "No Oneís Riding Light Rail, So Reduce Fares and Build More," The Antiplanner blog, August 24, 2014, http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=9536 (last checked August 28, 2014)
5. "Even state roads chief says light rail won't help ease Virginia Beach traffic," The Virginian-Pilot, April 19, 2015, http://hamptonroads.com/2015/04/even-state-roads-chief-says-light-rail-wont-help-ease-virginia-beach-traffic (last checked April 20, 2015)
6. "Light rail passes easily in Virginia Beach," The Virginian-Pilot, November 7, 2012, http://hamptonroads.com/2012/11/light-rail-passes-easily-virginia-beach; "Virginia Beach, state compromise on light-rail terms," The Virginian-Pilot, April 25, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/04/virginia-beach-state-compromise-lightrail-terms; "Can Light Rail Unite Two Va. Cities?," Governing, October 2011, http://www.governing.com/columns/eco-engines/can-light-rail-unite-two-va-cities.html; "A $280 million misdirection," The Virginian-Pilot, October 5, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/10/280-million-misdirection (last checked October 5, 2014)
7. "Beach City Council impressed by maglev presentation," The Virginian-Pilot, March 19, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/03/beach-city-council-impressed-maglev-presentation (last checked June 9, 2014)
8. "Following one or both tracks to Virginia Beach?," The Virginian-Pilot, April 6, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/2014/04/following-one-or-both-tracks-virginia-beach; "Maglev: The Newest Cog in the Nationís Transportation Infrastructure," Quest, Old Dominion University, Volume 6 Issue 1 (Winter 2003), http://ww2.odu.edu/ao/instadv/quest/Maglev.html; "ODU to sell unused material to keep maglev research on track," The Virginian-Pilot, June 20, 2010, http://hamptonroads.com/2010/06/odu-sell-unused-material-keep-maglev-research-track; "Va. Beach official pitches $155M in state funding for light rail," The Virginian-Pilot, March 18, 2015, http://hamptonroads.com/2015/03/va-beach-official-pitches-155m-state-funding-light-rail; "State ready to commit more money to Beach light rail," The Virginian-Pilot, April 16, 2015, http://hamptonroads.com/2015/04/state-ready-commit-more-money-beach-light-rail (last checked April 17, 2015)
9. "Myths vs. Realities," Virginia Beach Connex, http://vbconnex.com/get-facts/myths-versus-realities/ (last checked November 21, 2016)
10. "Virginia Beach light rail referendum vote fails in a landslide," The Virginian-Pilot, November 8, 2016, http://pilotonline.com/news/government/politics/local/virginia-beach-light-rail-referendum-vote-fails-in-a-landslide/article_a36b8dd8-6f6e-5f1e-a101-5b354db544c8.html, "Va. Secretary of Transportation asks Virginia Beach to stop work on light rail project," WTKR, November 9, 2016, http://wtkr.com/2016/11/09/va-secretary-of-transportation-asks-virginia-beach-to-stop-work-on-light-rail-project/ (last checked November 20, 2016)
11. "Chesapeake looks to hop on light-rail bandwagon," The Virginian-Pilot, June 9, 2014, http://hamptonroads.com/node/719024; City of Chesapeake, "2035 Land Use Plan," pp.101-102, http://www.cityofchesapeake.net/Assets/images/departments/planning/2035compplan/LandUsePlanADOPTED.pdf; Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation ,"Hampton Roads Regional Transit Vision Plan," June 2011, pp.ES-15-16, http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/activities/files/Final_Report_03-17-11.pdf (last checked June 10, 2014)
12. "State, Richmond seek $25M grant for bus rapid transit," Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 24, 2014, http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/city-of-richmond/state-richmond-seek-m-grant-for-bus-rapid-transit/article_a728bf50-cbba-11e3-902b-0017a43b2370.html; "Frequently Asked Questions," Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Study, GRTC Transit System, June 15, 2012, http://study.ridegrtc.com/learn/BRT%20FAQ.pdf (last checked April 28, 2014)
13. "August 27, 2013 Public Meeting," Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Study, GRTC Transit System, http://study.ridegrtc.com/documents/BRT%20Presentation%20Aug2013.pdf (last checked April 28, 2014)
14. "Senate panel votes down Loupassiís RMA bill," Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 14, 2013, http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/state-regional/virginia-politics/general-assembly/senate-panel-votes-down-loupassi-s-rma-bill/article_92397642-76e4-11e2-86dd-0019bb30f31a.html; "In final lap, RMA bill hits roadblock," Chesterfield Observer, February 5, 2014, http://www.chesterfieldobserver.com/news/2014-02-05/Front_Page/In_final_lap_RMA_bill_hits_roadblock.html (last checked April 28, 2014)
15. "A year later, plan to improve Columbia Pike transit is still a work in progress," Washingtob Post, November 15, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/a-year-later-plan-to-improve-columbia-pike-transit-is-still-a-work-in-progress/2015/11/15/58b34a10-889d-11e5-9a07-453018f9a0ec_story.html (last checked November 16, 2015)
16. "Consultants: Columbia Pike streetcar would bring more money, growth than bus transit," Washington Post, March 26, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/consultants-columbia-pike-streetcar-would-bring-more-money-growth-than-bus-transit/2014/03/26/a8e7cb14-b518-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html; "Fairfax County Board of Supervisors backs Columbia Pike streetcar line," Washington Business Journal, July 31, 2012, http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2012/07/31/fairfax-co-board-backs-columbia-pike.html; "Columbia Pike Transit Initiative: Comparative Return on Investment Study," prepared by HR&A Advisors, Inc. for Arlington County, Virginia, March 26, 2014, p.8, p.12, http://www.columbiapikeva.us/streetcar-transit/return-on-investment-study/ (last checked May 7, 2014)
17. "D.C. areaís first bus-only lanes under construction in Northern Virginia," Washington Post, March 4, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-areas-first-bus-only-lanes-under-construction-in-northern-virginia/2013/03/04/59a9881e-803d-11e2-a350-49866afab584_story.html; "Regionís first dedicated bus lanes planned in Crystal City, Potomac Yard area," Washington Post, February 21, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/regions-first-dedicated-bus-lanes-planned-in-crystal-city-potomac-yard-area/2014/02/21/10172118-9b15-11e3-ad71-e03637a299c0_story.html (last checked April 28, 2014)
18. "Arlington can't forget what made it what it is," Washington Post, May 16, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/arlington-cant-forget-what-made-it-what-it-is/2014/05/16/39529dae-db99-11e3-bda1-9b46b2066796_story.html (last checked May 20, 2014)
19. "After one $1 million bus stop, 23 others await results of Arlington review," Washington Post, May 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/after-one-1-million-bus-stop-23-others-await-results-of-arlington-review/2014/05/02/10ee3506-d213-11e3-937f-d3026234b51c_story.html; "No more 'million dollar bus stops' in Arlington," Washington Post, May 7, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/no-more-million-dollar-bus-stops-in-arlington/2014/05/06/9d8968c2-d54d-11e3-8a78-8fe50322a72c_story.html (last checked May 7, 2014)
20. "John Vihstadt wins Arlington County Board seat; first non-Democrat since 1999," Washington Post, April 8, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/attorney-john-vihstadt-wins-arlington-board-seat/2014/04/07/8537211a-be87-11e3-b195-dd0c1174052c_story.html; "Democrats Patrick Hope, Alan Howze call for Arlington streetcar referendum," Washington Post, Thursday, May 1, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/democrats-patrick-hope-alan-howze-call-for-arlington-streetcar-referendum/2014/05/01/e7f9fdaa-d150-11e3-a6b1-45c4dffb85a6_story.html (last checked May 1, 2014)
21. "Arlington County: Streetcar will cost $358 million, much more than original estimate," Washington Post, May 13, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/arlington-streetcar-project-will-cost-358m-considerably-more-than-original-estimate/2014/05/13/65ef182c-dae2-11e3-b745-87d39690c5c0_story.html; "Columbia Pike Streetcar FTA Update Ė April 2013," Arlington County, http://www.columbiapikeva.us/streetcar-transit/columbia-pike-streetcar-fta-update-april-2013/; "Arlington County Board awards $26 million contract for streetcar work," Washington Post, September 23, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/report-cites-failures-in-1-million-bus-stop/2014/09/23/7e8006ca-4352-11e4-9a15-137aa0153527_story.html (last checked September 24, 2014)
22. "Virginia will add $65 million to Columbia Pike streetcar project," Washington Post, July 11, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-will-add-65-million-to-columbia-pike-streetcar-project/2014/07/11/486bf19a-090d-11e4-a0dd-f2b22a257353_story.html; "Fate of Columbia Pike streetcar could stay unresolved until 2016," Leesburg Today, July 14, 2014, http://www.leesburgtoday.com/news/region/fate-of-columbia-pike-streetcar-could-stay-unresolved-until/article_96385ae3-760b-5de5-8b9a-213e7d299863.html; "Arlington officials vote to halt work on Columbia Pike, Crystal City streetcar projects," Washington Post, November 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/arlington-officials-major-announcement-on-columbia-pike-streetcar-project-at-noon/2014/11/18/ce2a8170-6f38-11e4-8808-afaa1e3a33ef_story.html (last checked November 18, 2014)
23. James A. Bacon, "A Second Opinion on the Columbia Pike Streetcar," Bacon's Rebellion blog, April 2, 2014, http://www.baconsrebellion.com/2014/04/a-second-opinion-on-the-columbia-pike-streetcar.html (last checked April 28, 2014)
24. "TransAction 2040 Plan Projects And National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board Constrained Long Range Plan Projects," TransAction 2040 Plan, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, http://www.thenovaauthority.org/transaction2040/2040PDFs/Final/NVTA_TA2040_PlanMap_20121120_LoRes.pdf (last checked April 28, 2014)
25. "Community Weighs Transportation Options on Route 1," Mount Vernon Gazette, April 3, 2014, http://connectionarchives.com/PDF/2014/040214/Mt%20Vernon.pdf (last checked April 28, 2014)
26. C. Richard Bierce, "Letter: Favoring Heavy Rail," Mount Vernon Gazette, January 8, 2014, http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2014/jan/08/letter-favoring-heavy-rail/ (last checked April 28, 2014)

the Virginia Passenger and Power Company in Richmond broke a strike by streetcar employees in 1903
the Virginia Passenger and Power Company in Richmond broke a strike by streetcar employees in 1903
Source: Library of Congress - "Chronicling America - Historic American Newspapers," The Richmond Times Dispatch (July 28, 1903)

on light rail systems such as The Tide in Norfolk, trains run at slower speeds than on heavy rail systems such as Metrorail in Northern Virginia
on light rail systems such as The Tide in Norfolk, trains run at slower speeds than on heavy rail systems such as Metrorail in Northern Virginia
Source: Super NoVa Transit & TDM Vision Plan Study, Transit Mode Characteristics (Table 5.1)


Railroads in Virginia
From Feet to Space: Transportation in Virginia
Virginia Places