VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) – A referendum asking voters if they support extending light rail into the city likely will be tight.
A poll commissioned by 13News Now, The Virginian-Pilot, and Christopher Newport University shows a near even split in opinion as to whether the City of Virginia Beach should spend money to bring The Tide from Norfolk to Virginia Beach Town Center.
The ballot question reads verbatim the referendum on the ballot:
“SHOULD THE CITY OF VIRGINIA BEACH SPEND LOCAL FUNDS TO EXTEND LIGHT RAIL FROM NORFOLK TO TOWN CENTER IN VIRGINIA BEACH?”
Forty-eight percent of the Virginia Beach residents polled said they would support extending light rail, while 49 percent said they would vote against the ballot measure.
Two percent were undecided, and one percent didn't know or refused to answer.
The campaigns on both sides of the hotly-debated issue saw the numbers positively.
Joash Schulman of the pro-light rail group VB Connex, called the even split "encouraging."
"The more conversations we have, the more we talk to people about how this is just not about 3 and a half miles to Town Center, it's about a larger system," Schulman said. "It is critical in November that we get out and send a message to the world that we are interested in investing in growth."
John Atkinson, the City Treasurer and leader of the group that circulated the petitions that forced the referendum, said the momentum is in his corner.
"The trend is one is dropping and one is climbing," said Atkinson. "The election is four weeks off. In my opinion it will give us time to continue the trend and give us a substantial win."
The poll of 706 likely voters was conducted from October 2 through the 6 and has a margin of error of 4.5%, showing the results are truly a toss-up.
Last week while the polling was underway, Hampton Roads Transit said the cost to extend The Tide from Norfolk into Virginia Beach was approximately $243.1 million, roughly $84 million less than originally estimated. The revised figure came out as the poll was being conducted. It is unclear if it had any influence on voters' responses.
Some of the other questions asked indicated light rail was being held in a fairly favorable light:
- 56 percent think light rail in Virginia Beach is a smart move for the future, while 41 percent disagreed.
- 53 percent think it will help economic development; 42 percent disagree.
Only 44 percent of respondents think extending The Tide will help relieve traffic congestion; 53 percent think it will not.
The poll asked participants -- regardless of how they planned to vote in November -- if they thought Hampton Roads should have a regional light rail system.
Despite the dead heat when it came to the general question about the referendum, 62 percent said the area should have a light rail system. Thirty-one percent said it should not.
Quentin Kidd, a CNU political professor who led the survey, said the future of the light rail extension will largely depend on voters' feelings on the polarizing presidential candidates, democrat Hillary Clinton and republican Donald Trump.
"If I support light rail, I really want the Clinton campaign to turn out votes in Virginia Beach. If I'm opposed to light rail, I really want the Trump campaign to turn out votes in Virginia Beach," explained Kidd. "I think that's what's going to determine whether light rail goes up or down."
Trump led Clinton by one percentage point, 43-42 in the survey. Most of the respondents to the survey lean republican, as does most of the electorate in the city.