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The Tide Comes In: Transportation Collaboration in Hampton Roads

By Neal Modi | December 26, 2011 | No Comments

500,000 people. That’s the number of people who have ridden the Tide–Hampton Roads’ new light-rail transit service–in just four months.

To the surprise of many, the Tide has wildly exceeded expectations. Currently servicing around 4,500 people a day, the service already has plans to expand into other municipalities and has received positive support from both city leaders and citizens alike.

At one time, the Tide appeared to be a disappointing project that was both over-budget and over-due.  While much credit certainly should go to Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) and the new leadership that turned the Tide (pun intended) into a government success story, credit is also due to Hampton Roads’ cities–for cooperating.

That’s right!  Cooperation among the major cities of South Hampton Roads has played a large role in bringing the light rail to fruition.  This type of successful cooperation, practically unheard of in previous years, has delivered one of Hampton Roads’ greatest recent success stories.

Yet, the Tide should not be the last and only example of cooperation among neighboring cities. Rather, it should be the beginning.

Regional cooperation, especially in regions like Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, is not novel.  But in today’s economic climate, it’s become increasingly important to innovation and progress.  For instance, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake announced this month that they are working with leaders from the region’s local businesses to find ways to save money through collaboration.

If early indicators prove correct, this region-wide effort will create dozens of cheaper and more efficient services.  You don’t have to take Economics 101 to understand that a consortium of cities can take advantage of economies of scale.  After all, the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake have a combined population of 880,000.  Negotiating and dealing with suppliers of emergency equipment, for instance, can benefit each city individually, while they negotiate collectively.  These and other cities in regions around the Commonwealth can also pool resources and power when it comes to administrative services, internet, schools, and libraries, to name a few.

This focus on efficiency and cost-cutting, spurred by the current fiscal climate, may finally encourage cities to do what they should have done for years now–work together to solve problems.  The geographic proximity of these cities (especially in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia) gives all the more reason for this new approach.

It’s true that past regional partnerships have had their fair share of failures, largely because they can’t move past the early stages of cooperation.  The crucial point therefore is for local and regional leaders to stay the course and push through inevitable parochial concerns.  While localities should of course retain their autonomy and ability to govern their own neighborhoods, collaboration with other surrounding municipalities can lead to large returns for those communities.

Now is the time for our major metropolitan regions to realize the promise of collaboration and work together.  Indeed, collaboration should become a buzzword for public administration across Virginia-and that would be a tide worth riding.

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