defining the edges of Hampton Roads, determining which jurisdictions to include/exclude, is a judgment call
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
Hampton Roads is named after the Earl of Southampton, a leader in the London Company that financed English colonization in Virginia between 1607-1624. The "roads" refers to a place where a ship can ride at anchor, relatively safe from displacement by strong currents or storms.
the sheltered waters of Hampton Roads extend roughly from the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel to the Nansemond River
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Coast Survey, Hampton Roads
Today Hampton Roads is a cultural region. Its boundaries are not fixed by law, as are the boundaries of a county or city. It is a judgment call on which jurisdictions belong to Hampton Roads. Different regional organizations have defined the edges in different ways.
Narrow definitions exclude some jurisdictions on the Peninsula north of the James River, and draw the western boundary at the Blackwater River. The broadest definitions include counties north of the York River and south of the Virginia border, incorporating two counties in North Carolina.
The Eastern Shore is not considered part of Hampton Roads - yet. Northampton County is less than 15 miles away from Virginia Beach, but major transportation links are limited to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and the Bay Coast Railroad rail barge. Vacationers drive between Northampton County and Virginia Beach, but commute-to-work patterns are not strong enough for the Bureau of Census to include Northampton County in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area.
the Eastern Shore is a separate region from Hampton Roads, and Northampton County is not part of the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
A regional economic strategy group known as the Hampton Roads Partnership existed for 17 years between 1996-2013. By the time it dissolved, the Hampton Roads Partnership included Gloucester County on the Middle Peninsula, but not adjacent Mathews County.1
The boundaries of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) are much broader. That agency handles wastewater, and was originally established in 1940 because health officials had banned harvest from oyster beds. Shellfish had absorbed untreated sewage, and become too polluted for consumption.2
Economic leadership in Hampton Roads is divided. The Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce focuses on businesses north of the river in the cities of Newport News, Hampton and Poquoson, and in James City County and York County. Williamsburg has a separate Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance.
the City of Williamsburg is not included in the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce jurisdictions
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, which largely replaced the now-defunct Hampton Roads Partnership, shrank its boundaries. The alliance does not include Gloucester County north of the York River. York County, James City County, and the City of Williamsburg on the Peninsula, and Surry County south of the James River, are also omitted.
the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance jurisdictions do not include Gloucester County north of the York River, York County, James City County, or the City of Williamsburg on the Peninsula, or Surry County south of the James River
Source: Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, Map Center
The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce uses the broadest boundaries to define the region. It includes Mathews County and Surry County, and even lists Curritick County in North Carolina as part of Hampton Roads. Currituck County also describes itself as part of the region, since it is included in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area defined by the Bureau of Census.3
the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce shows Surry, Mathews, and Gloucester counties plus the City of Williamsburg as part of Hampton Roads
Source: Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce
according to Currituck County and the Bureau of Census, portions of North Carlinia are part of the Hampton Roads region
Source: Currituck County, Take a walk through Currituck's business economy
The founding chair of the Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement had served as city manager for Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hampton during his career, providing him a deep understanding of the challenge:4
Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance jurisdictions (2014)
Source: Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance
One challenge to establishing a sense of identity, and to create regional unity for legislative objectives in the General Assembly, is that numerous rivers divide Hampton Roads. Only a limited number of bridges and tunnels allow vehicles to cross the water barriers; physical barriers reinforce jurisdictional boundaries.
Downstream of the 4.5 miles long James River Bridge, major bridge-tunnels in the region include:
- Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel, I-664 connecting Suffolk to Newport News (4.6 miles long)
- Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, I-64 connecting Norfolk to Hampton (3.5 miles long)
- Downtown Tunnel, I-264 connecting Portsmouth to Norfolk (0.75 miles long)
- Midtown Tunnel, US 58 connecting Portsmouth to Norfolk (0.75 miles long)
- Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, US 13 connecting Virginia Beach to Northampton County (17.6 miles long)
Leaders on either side of the James River in "North" and "South" Hampton Roads disagreed for decades on the priorities for transportation projects, and how to fund them. Widening I-64 would benefit only the jurisdictions on the Peninsula, widening US 460 would benefit only the jurisdictons south of the James River, and different options for a new bridge and/or tunnel to create a "Third Crossing" of the James River focused benefits on different portions of both North and South Hampton Roads.
The Federal government mandates regional planning for transportation projects that receive Federal funding. The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) was created to broker deals, but the political differences between the jurisdictions created shifting priorities that undercut efforts to get new road/bridge/tunnel projects funded and built.
the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the Hampton Roads Partnership adopted a flag with 16 stars, but the interpretation of which jurisdictions should be included in the region is fluid
Source: Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce
The problem of setting transportation priorities came to a head after the General Assembly raised taxes in 2013 and created a dedicated source of funding for new roads and bridges. In 2014, the General Assembly broke the regional deadlock on transportation planning by creating a new Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC). The state legislature gave that organization the authority to spend the new revenues directed into the new Hampton Roads Transportation Fund.5
in 2013, the Bureau of Census redefined the boundaries of the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area, adding Gates County in North Carolina while dropping Surry County)
Source: Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Hampton Roads MSA: Analysis of Recent Delineation
the Bureau of Census defined Williamsburg and portions of James City County as "urbanized areas" in 2013, and dropped the classification of Surry County as an "outlying county" of the Metropolitan Statistical Area
Source: Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, New Business Item – Revised Delineation of the MSA
After the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission led an effort in 2014 to re-examine the name "Hampton Roads" to enhance tourism, local jurisdictions formed the Coastal Virginia Tourism Alliance. Membership stretched on the western edge of the Peninsula to include Williamsburg as well as York County, but the group excluded Gloucester County north of the York River.
On the south side of the James River, Southampton, Surry, Isle of Wight, and the two counties on the Eastern Shore joined with the cities of Suffolk, Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach in the Coastal Virginia Tourism Alliance.6
In 2018, Bruce Thompson, a key developer in the region, repeated the call for relabelling Hampton Roads:7
the Go Virginia council boundaries for Region 5 included Isle of Wight and Southampton counties, but not Surry County
Source: Go Virginia, About Region Five
1. "Hampton Roads Partnership to merge with new group," The Virginian-Pilot, June 6, 2013, http://hamptonroads.com/2013/06/hampton-roads-partnership-merge-new-group; "Hampton Roads Partnership Locality Profiles," Hampton Roads Partnership, http://hamptonroadsperforms.org/profiles/locality/ (last checked March 27, 2014)
2. "HRSD History," Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD), http://www.hrsd.com/history.shtml (last checked March 27, 2014)
3. "Metropolitan and Micropolitan - Core based statistical areas (CBSAs), metropolitan divisions, and combined statistical areas (CSAs)," Bureau of Census, July 2015, http://www.census.gov/population/metro/data/def.html; "Take a walk through Currituck's business economy," Currituck County, http://www.thinkcurrituck.com/currituck-county-hampton-roads-community-infographic (last checked September 22, 2016)
4. "Civic engagement: Movement afoot in Hampton Roads to breathe life into a sustainable, deliberative local democracy," Virginia Town and City, July 2009, http://hrcce.org/resources/32-an-article-about-hrcce-and-civic-engagement (last checked March 27, 2014)
5. "About HRTAC," Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, https://www.hrtac.org/page/about-hrtac (last checked December 21, 2017)
6. "About CoVA," Coastal Virginia Tourism Alliance, http://visitcova.com/about-cova/ (last checked February 2, 2018)
7. "Go Virginia committee says Hampton Roads needs new name," Inside Business - The Hampton Roads Business Journal, December 20, 2017, https://pilotonline.com/inside-business/news/economic-development/go-virginia-committee-says-hampton-roads-needs-new-name/article_fd92e722-a088-53a0-bce7-a393bebf1350.html; "Panel suggests ditching Hampton Roads name, more regional teamwork to capture tourism dollars," Southside Daily, February 1, 2018, https://southsidedaily.com/business/2018/02/01/panel-suggests-ditching-hampton-roads-name-more-regional-teamwork-to-capture-tourism-dollars/ (last checked February 2, 2018)
in 2012, the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads was the third largest container port on the East Coast
Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, Review of the Virginia Port Authority's Competitiveness, Funding, and Governance (2013)