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"STATE OF THE REGION" REPORT STARTS THE DEBATE ON ISSUES AFFECTING HAMPTON ROADS

Regional issues of interest to Hampton Roads citizens, particularly ones that cross city lines, bridges and tunnels, are highlighted in a new report by Old Dominion's Regional Studies Institute.

Titled "State of the Region: Hampton Roads 2000," the 127-page report is designed to stimulate discussion and thought on a variety of local issues -- everything from the economy to transportation to tourism.

"For those who wish to make Hampton Roads an even better place to live, we must know literally 'where we are' in critical areas," said President James V. Koch, who secured financial support from area leaders to publish the report. "We're not under the illusion that one report will change things, but we need to begin attacking issues from a regional standpoint and
encourage people to think about things in different ways.

"Our goal in producing the report is to act as an honest broker for discussion and policymaking. We believe it's important to cast about for regional solutions to problems."

As evidenced by recent stories in The Virginian-Pilot, the report has already started the debate on two important topics: transportation and the merging of local governments.

According to Koch, perhaps the report's most surprising finding came via a poll of citizens throughout the region who indicated they are receptive to the idea of merging local governments and many of the services they provide.

However, while the report cites statistics showing that 50.5 percent of Hampton Roads residents polled (50 percent in Virginia Beach) support merging area cities and counties into a single jurisdiction, Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf was quoted in the Oct. 15 Pilot article saying the reaction she gets from civic leagues to the idea of merging cities is "100 percent no."

"This is a good example of how people see things differently" and why it is important to foster discussion about such issues, Koch points out.

Another Pilot story recently looked at issues raised in the report's transportation section, including a proposal to eventually build a regional "superport," possibly in Isle of Wight County, that would necessitate closing the Norfolk and Peninsula airports. It's an issue that, until now, has not generated much discussion, Koch noted.

The transportation section also encourages regional leaders to look more seriously at long-term solutions to today's traffic congestion.

"The experts we talked to from outside the region are unanimous in the belief that if mass transit is not part of the solution, Hampton Roads is making a big mistake," Koch said. "According to them, building more lanes is just a short-term solution.

"Maybe light rail isn't the solution, but we need to explore alternatives to putting more cars on the highways. Every great region has a significant transportation system, and we don't."

This section also notes that initial planning for a high-speed rail system along the East Coast does not include Hampton Roads as a stop. "If we're not on that, we will be significantly isolated, and this will have a dire effect on the quality of life and standard of living in Hampton Roads," Koch said.

The "State of the Region" report also includes sections on K-12 education, military, government, technology, workforce and health. Reports in succeeding years will be more topic-oriented and offer more analysis, Koch
said.

It is anticipated that next year's report will explore the airport issue in-depth and look closely at the pros and cons of efforts to attract a major league sports franchise to the region.

The following people and organizations provided financial support for the "State of the Region" report: The Aimee and Frank Batten Jr. Foundation, Frank Batten Sr., R. Bruce Bradley, Ramon W. Breeden Jr., Arthur A. Diamonstein, George Dragas Jr., Hampton Roads Partnership, Thomas Lyons, Arnold McKinnon, J. Douglas and Patricia W. Perry, and Anne B. Shumadine.

Approximately a dozen Old Dominion faculty conducted research and provided background information for the 2000 report, including Jeffrey Harlow (public opinion), Wayne Talley (transportation), Stephen Medvic (government), and Gil Yochum and Vinod Agarwal (economy, military and tourism).

This article was posted on: November 7, 2000

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