Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pushing Through To 15th Street And Back

In looking forward to today's scheduled TDCHR meeting, the big concern was that there was also a Virginia Municipal League meeting slated. How many Commissioners would be gone? With an eminent domain hearing for Norfolk light rail, quorum was needed. What no one could have known then was that we'd be hit with the remnants of Hurricane Ida. With the New Starts Committee meeting scheduled for Noon, followed by TDCHR at 1:30, I called HRT to be sure things were still on before venturing out into this weather. What a fixture I've become: Staff recognized my voice on the phone. Yes, things were still rolling.

I went to the bus stop to catch Route 20 in. The good news is that we have a shelter for the Inbound 20; the bad news is that it's on low-lying ground. While it gave me protection from the storm, I was standing in about a half-inch of water. At least it was a very good bus: Bus 1806, out of the former Navy tour fleet. It has high-backed cushioned seats, overhead racks, etc. With the horrible weather, few passengers on this trip: only 5 of us going into Military Circle, then 6 leaving. Before departing the Military Circle Transfer Center, the Operator announced our weather detour: break route by going north on Ballentine, then west on Princess Anne Road, finally taking Church Street north to the temporary transfer center at 18th Street and Church Street. (The approach roads to the Cedar Grove Transfer Center were flooded, forcing it's closure.) Anyone who wanted to divert due to the detour was given a chance to disembark at Military Circle.

Arriving at 18th & Church, there was a long queue of buses lined up on 18th. The problem was that most had their destination signs off, and the Operators were huddling under the overhang of the union hall roof. Thus, neither did passengers know if their buses were there nor could they board to get out of the weather. Finally, the western portion of the walk to 15th Street meant going through water that at places was 5-6 inches deep.

Arriving at HRT's Southside administrative offices at 1500 Monticello Avenue, a couple employees recognized me. As I started to take my rain gear off, a Jason's Deli delivery driver entered with the food for the New Starts meeting. Since I was early (gave myself a cushion with the weather) and knew where the conference room was, I offered to escort him upstairs. Getting there, we learned the New Starts meeting had been cancelled. (That's plenty of food for nothing....) Present were Senior Vice President for Development Jayne Whitney and TDCHR Secretary Luis Ramos. I reported to Whitney on the trip in, while Ramos told me the only reason the TDCHR meeting was still on was the advertised eminent domain hearing. I engaged in chat with Staff while trying to dry out. At 11:40 the TDCHR meeting was finally cancelled. Ramos started calling Commissioners while Whitney told me to grab some food before taking the bus home. Before leaving, I asked if they had the packets for the since-cancelled TDCHR meeting. I know they're fact-filled, and figured I could work a blog post out of the information. Alas, the packets were at HRT Headquarters in Hampton and now not being transported over.

It was back through the water to 18th & Church. This time it didn't seem as bad, having done it before. Turning onto 18th Street, I could see the bus destinations signs were now on. Up close, I found that the Operators were onboard to allow passengers out of the weather. (Did Jayne speak to someone in Operations?) In addition, a HRT employee was now directing traffic to help handle that many buses on the narrow street.

As I walked up 18th, someone recognized me and asked, "Is the 20 down there?" No, it wasn't. We went to huddle under the union hall roof, with the 20 arriving within two minutes. The detour was now off, and we went south on Church, then east on Virginia Beach Boulevard to resume the normal route. At Tidewater Drive the Operator had to slip the bus between two stalled cars. Surprisingly, the amount of water at the bottom of the railroad underpass was negligible. (Nice going, Norfolk Public Works!) Finally, the lady sitting across from me was going to work. When I later heard that bus service would end today after 5, I immediately wondered how she was going to get home tonight.

For those of you wondering, the November TDCHR meeting is now cancelled and will not be rescheduled. The next meeting will be December 10 in Norfolk. Originally slated for Hampton, it will now be in Norfolk due to the light rail eminent domain hearing being pushed back to that date.

Overall, better than I had expected from HRT Operations in this weather. Note that the earlier problems at 18th & Church were being taken care of as I made my trip home.

Why this post? First, I'm sure there will be plenty of weather stories, so I shared mine. Second, it's probably the first online account of how the weather affected HRT. Third, last Christmas I noted how I won't let things get to me to make public duties. Wanted you to know I'm keeping my vow.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the account.

Could you give me a brief explanation about what goes on at the New Starts meetings? What's it for? Norfolk LR or VA Beach LR?

Thank, and glad you could make it home.

Avenging Archangel said...

You're welcome.

New Starts essentially covers any new fixed guideway projects, including both Norfolk and Virginia Beach light rail. While the TDCHR is given a report afterwards, it's obviously the condensed version. If you want the good story on light rail, you go to New Starts.

FYI, The Virginian-Pravda's Debbie Messina is normally there, and that's where she gets her LRT stories from.

thesh00ter said...

kinda of a silly question but will the flooding cause damage to the LR construction?