NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - The Norfolk City Council voted to support the extension of light rail to Virginia Beach, just weeks before Beach residents will weigh in at the polls.
Council members voted in support of the project Tuesday, just weeks before Virginia Beach voters will have their say at the polls.
At least one city council member pointed out the endorsement could influence how Beach residents vote on November's light rail referendum.
"The timing of it was, in my view, was not a good time for us to be voting on it, because I don't want to appear like we're trying to influence another city," said council member Andrew Protogyrou, who proposed tabling the council vote until after election day.
But after much discussion, Protogyrou voted for the expansion, saying he didn't want it to look like he was against light rail and its future. Turns out, the timing he picked up on wasn't entirely coincidental.
"We did get word that there were people who did want the timing at this point," said Protogyrou.
The paperwork for the vote came from assistant city manager's office. The documentation was presented to council this week. Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim is a public supporter of light rail in the region.
Council member Paul Riddick was the one dissenting vote. Riddick says history played a part in his decision.
"When light rail actually became a desire in this particular region, Virginia Beach would not even allow an advisory referendum, and most of the persons who have been here for a while realize that was because Virginia Beach didn't want African Americans to have access to the Beach," said Riddick.
Ultimately, the decision to proceed with the project lies in the hands of Virginia Beach voters, who Protogyrou says will help pay for light rail if it becomes a benefit to the entire region.
"Any light rail in the future has to include the surrounding cities," he said. "Norfolk no longer can take that burden."
Council also voted to move forward with the study that would bring light rail to Norfolk Naval Station. The city of Norfolk has already set aside the money for that study, which amounts to $1.8 million.
HRT spokesman Tom Holden says it is still too early in the process to know exactly which route the light rail would take to the base, as that is the purpose of the study.
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