By Jordan Pascale
VIRGINIA BEACH – The voters of Virginia Beach have spoken: They overwhelmingly don’t want light rail.
No – 57 percent; Yes – 43 percent.
With nearly all precincts reporting, 71,458 yes votes were cast to 94,584 no votes. The count is unofficial, but more than 166,000 weighed in on the nonbinding referendum.
The vote acts as a litmus test for the City Council, which will now decide whether to formally kill the $243 million, 3.5-mile extension from Norfolk to Town Center.
A majority of council members have said they will follow the results of the referendum.
It’s a stunning victory for the anti-light-rail group, one that was grassroots, underfunded and used Facebook memes, media stunts and old-fashioned yard signs to sway the public. Their leader, City Treasurer John Atkinson, spent many days walking around with a sandwich board around his chest asking voters to turn down light rail.
They went up against a more-polished campaign flush with slick TV ads and a hopeful campaign focused on regionalism.
An October poll showed the issue neck and neck. Tuesday, the “no” won with a 14-point margin.
The question read: “Should City Council of Virginia Beach spend local funds to extend Light Rail from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach?”
The extension would have added three new stations.
Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms said the council and city staff need to re-evaluate light rail . He said it is possible they could explore other funding sources or put the question to voters again in four years.
“Light rail is dead (for now),” he said at his campaign event.