Citizens of Virginia Beach, would you like a nice big bowl of jelly beans? That is basically how our Virginia Beach City Council will fashion the referendum question about light rail. Don’t concern your pretty little self about the cost of the jelly beans, just help yourself and don’t worry about the cost of the jelly beans.
Instead, the referendum on light rail should include, if not specifics, a reasonable estimate of costs involved.
For example, reports show extending the light rail to the oceanfront would cost $807 million. As usual when our Virginia Beach City Council discusses projects, they always leave out the interest cost. In this case, interest would be about $400 million which results in about $1.2 billion just to lay the tracks. Then of course, don’t forget the usual cost overruns.
How much will five light rail stations cost ($10 million each?) plus, of course, the interest cost for a total of approximately $90 million for five stations. Then there will be the cost of the people to run the stations and the maintenance of the stations.
How many feeder buses will be needed to serve citizens throughout the city, drivers for the buses and what will be costs in people and material to maintain all the buses and the trolleys?
And what will be the cost to support the Public Private partnerships to help the developers to build their condos and apartments? And don’t forget the newest way to grab taxpayers money called “gap financing.”
Based on this overview, citizens should expect about $2 billion to lay the tracks, buy the trains and buses and stations. We still need an estimate of the many millions of dollars per year in operation and maintenance and the cost to subsidize the entire operation of light rail for all time to come.
Unfortunately, but predictably, our council is ready to offer a “wouldn’t light rail be wonderful” approach as a referendum. Council simply asks citizens if they (council) can use “…all reasonable efforts to support the financing and development” of light rail into Virginia Beach.
Emphasize “all reasonable” and ask who will decide how much is reasonable. Do you really want to give this council the authority to decide “all reasonable” and use your tax dollars however they wish?
A council member is quoted as saying that the proposed referendum is “very direct and pointed.” Nonsense. Until cost estimates are included, the referendum would be nothing less than giving council freedom to spend our taxpayers dollars.
The referendum as suggested by our city council offers us a bowl of jelly beans without describing that it will be a very expensive bowl of jelly beans.