Hampton Roads' residents are finally getting a better idea of what The Tide started.
In November, Virginia Beach voted to ask the City Council to find a way to bring light rail to the city. In the past few weeks, a private group has floated a $235 million proposal to take the train to Rosemont Road. Last week, Hampton Roads Transit signed a $1.8 million contract for a study on how to get light rail to Norfolk Naval Station, a major employer and a huge source of traffic in the region.
It's worth remembering, as these various processes begin, that for $318 million, Norfolk didn't buy a light rail system. It bought a 7.4-mile starter line through the region's urban core, one that goes from Eastern Virginia Medical Center on the west side of Norfolk to Newtown Road on the east.
For The Tide to become anything like an actual transit system, that line will have to be extended. Spurs will have to be built. The train will have to go places it doesn't go now.
The naval base has always been the obvious destination, along with the strategic growth areas along Virginia Beach Boulevard. So action on those fronts is no surprise.
But if The Tide is going to be successful, it can't stop there.
Some dream of taking light rail to Old Dominion University, to Oceana Naval Air Station, to Norfolk International Airport. Some want the train to cross the James River. The Elizabeth. To go to Olde Towne. To Greenbrier. To downtown Suffolk.
Those dreams represent possibilities and fantasies. They also represent a future.
Hampton Roads is not a new community. It has fewer empty fields on which to build businesses and houses, and the cost of getting to and from far-flung destinations is increasingly time consuming and expensive.
The future of the region lies in the redevelopment and growth of tired neighborhoods, raggedy shopping centers and industrial wastelands. That will bring more traffic to already overburdened roads. Or it will attract passengers to a light rail system.
Given those premises, light rail presents a kind of destiny.
Expanding the line will make it easier to redevelop places that need it. Businesses and people will choose to live and work and shop around stations. That has happened everywhere an effective transit system has been built. It happened after the Metro ran to Arlington and to Silver Spring, Md. It happened after commuter rail ran to Fredericksburg and after light rail - Lynx - came to Charlotte.
It will happen in Hampton Roads. The Tide will eventually go to the Navy base and to the Oceanfront, even if it takes a decade or two. The question we should begin asking now is where we want it to go after that.