Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday signed legislation that will bring zero-emission electric buses to Virginia as part of an initiative to change public transportation in Hampton Roads.

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Louise Lucas and Del. Alex Askew creates the first-ever dedicated Hampton Roads Regional Transit Program and Fund, which will be managed by the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission.

“This legislation provides critical funding to increase access to public transit in a vital economic region of the commonwealth,” Northam said in a statement. “The transition to all-electric transportation in the Hampton Roads area will help combat climate change, reduce pollution, and drive a clean energy future across Virginia.”

Under the new law, cities will continue funding public transit, but Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) will implement a new regional program of routes paid for with statewide and regional funding.

“We’re making history today that will benefit commuters and businesses across Hampton Roads for years to come,” HRT President and CEO William Harrell said in a statement. “A mix of reliable transit funding is long overdue, and better connections and faster commutes on public transportation will benefit everyone, even those who don’t ride the system themselves.”

HRT will develop a network of bus routes with new buses and amenities, along with mobile ticketing and improved technology, which will launch in Hampton and Newport News in 2022. The network will eventually include 13 core bus routes and limited-stop services.

HRT’s bus fleet will include Virginia’s first public transit buses that are all-electric and produce zero emissions. The six electric transit buses use advanced battery technology and were manufactured by Proterra in Greenville, South Carolina. The electric buses will be used on Route 20, which runs between the Downtown Norfolk Transit Center and the Virginia Beach Oceanfront on Virginia Beach Boulevard.

“Investing in the transition away from dirty transportation fuels is a critical step, and the commonwealth will continue to develop projects and partnerships to move us toward cleaner transportation,” Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler said in a statement.

The bus project will be supported by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s MERIT prioritization program, which is funded by the Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Transportation Voucher Program, the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust and the Federal Transit Administration’s Low- or No-Emission program. In October 2018, Northam announced that the commonwealth would allocate $14 million, or 15% of the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust to fund all-electric buses in Virginia.

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