It’s not every day that transit news is eclipsed by tragedy. …Well, actually, it’s probably very nearly every day, but you don’t get that much transit news in Hampton Roads, and my irritation that a “trial” bus service to Norfolk airport had been canceled (after only two months!) was quickly eclipsed by my shock at today’s tragic accident near Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.
The buildings into which the jet crashed, and indeed the pattern of development generally, are fairly old. The extent to which Virginia Beach encourages development around Oceana – literally all around it, with the Southeastern Parkway representing the finality of hemming the base in – always stuck me as extremely craven and short-sighted for exactly this reason; not only does it compromise the mission of Oceana airfield, but also endangers the public. No amount of performative utterances about “the sound of freedom” are going to eliminate the basic calculus of risk taken by encouraging people to live in a crash zone. The risk patterns are as well-documented as that of a flood zone.
I’m not sure what worries me more: that things won’t change, or that they will for the worse. Norfolk’s little light rail stub is performing better than expected, and the momentum for some kind of extension into Virginia Beach was gaining – probably first to Pembroke Town Center, but possibly to complete the Base-to-Beach vision necessary to make that line meaningfully useful. Now a line to the oceanfront, skirting the northern edge of Oceana, seems a lot less appropriate – or, at least, the idea of increasing density in the airfield’s environs would be.
But just as likely, I imagine, is the possibility that the looming, upcoming BRAC round will see this as the last straw of negotiating with Virginia Beach for an increasingly compromised base, and will recommend Oceana’s closure. Jacksonville always has room for more jets, as does Cherry Point.
Virginia Beach needs to finally start getting serious, for once, about how it’s going to develop, redevelop, and manage its land. They really can’t have it both ways, and lives are at stake.