Hampton Roads is the name for both a body of water and the Norfolk-Virginia Beach metropolitan area which surrounds it in southeastern Virginia, United States. Hampton Roads is notable for its year-round ice-free harbor, for United States Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, NASA, Marines, and Army facilities, shipyards, coal piers, and hundreds of miles of waterfront property and beaches, all of which contribute to the diversity and stability of the region's economy.
The water area known as Hampton Roads is one of the world's biggest natural harbors (more accurately a roadstead or "roads"), and incorporates the mouths of the Elizabeth River and James River with several smaller rivers and itself empties into the Chesapeake Bay near its mouth leading to the Atlantic Ocean..
The land area (also known as "Tidewater") includes dozens of cities, counties and towns on the Virginia Peninsula and in South Hampton Roads. Some of the more outlying areas from the harbor may or may not be included as part of "Hampton Roads", depending upon the organization or purpose. For a commonly used example, as defined for federal economic purposes, the Hampton Roads metropolitan statistical area (MSA) additionally includes one county in northeastern North Carolina and two counties in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula. Officially, the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC MSA has a population of about 1.7 million, the 36th-largest metropolitan area in the United States.
"Hampton Roads" (or "Tidewater") is a "vernacular region"; that is, a distinctive area where the inhabitants collectively consider themselves interconnected by a shared history, mutual interests, and a common identity. Such regions are "intellectual inventions" and a form of short-hand to identify things, people, and places. Vernacular regions reflect a "sense of place," but rarely coincide with established jurisdictional borders.
The area is steeped in 400 years of American history and hundreds of historical sites and attractions in the area draw visitors from around the world each year. The harbor was the key to the Hampton Roads area's growth, both on land and in water-related activities and events. Ironically, the harbor and its tributary waterways were (and still are) both important transportation conduits and obstacles to other land-based commerce and travel. Creating and maintaining adequate infrastructure has long been a major challenge. The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) and the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel (MMMBT) are major harbor crossings of the Hampton Roads Beltway which links each of the largest population centers of Hampton Roads. In 2007, the new Hampton Roads Transportation Authority (HRTA) was formed under a controversial state law to levy various additional taxes to generate funding for major regional transportation projects, including a long-sought and costly third crossing of the harbor of Hampton Roads.