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A history of roads in Virginia: Acting on future mobility needs

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The award-winning Varina-Enon Bridge over the James River south of Richmond employed a dramatic
cable-stayed design.

Major highway construction projects were completed during the 1990s, among them the last stretch of Virginia’s interstate network, a section of I-295 around Richmond finished in June 1992. The completion of I-295 brought the number of miles of interstate highway in the commonwealth to 1,105. Where I-295 crosses the James River, the Varina-Enon Bridge was constructed with a cable-stayed design used on only a few other bridges in the nation. Cables fan out from two 300-foot-high towers on the bridge structure, making for a dramatic and beautiful feat of engineering.

Completion of I-295 was preceded by a few weeks by the opening of the Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel (MMMBT). This massive project carries traffic over 3.5 miles of the waters of Hampton Roads and under almost one mile of those waters through a tunnel of twin tubes. The tunnel required joining 15 300-foot sections of the steel tubes, each wide enough to carry four lanes of traffic. When encased in concrete, each section weighed 28,000 tons, and each had to be joined to others under the water with a tolerance of one inch. The MMMBT enabled I-664 to link Newport News and Suffolk and put the last piece in place in a 55-mile interstate beltway in the region. It became the second water crossing from the Peninsula to Southeast Virginia after the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which opened its first two lanes in 1957 and its second two lanes in 1976.

A choke point of congestion at the George P. Coleman Bridge across the York River between Yorktown and Gloucester Point was remedied with the conversion of the bridge from two lanes to four. It was a marvel of engineering that provided for construction of the new, larger spans in Norfolk and the delivery of them, by barge, to the reinforced piers. The new spans were set in place while closing the bridge to traffic for only nine days. The innovative project won several awards.

Meanwhile, renewing the aging interstates without disrupting travelers on them was a continuing challenge, one that was met with intense planning and innovative engineering. Chief among these projects was the intersection of I-395 and I-495 with I-95 in the Springfield Interchange in Northern Virginia. This facility carries almost 400,000 vehicles daily on traffic lifelines for the entire East Coast. In the same period, VDOT began to convert the four-lane I-81 corridor to six lanes, as north-south traffic along it burgeoned. Meanwhile, bridges on I-95 through Richmond, one of the
earliest pieces of interstate built in Virginia, were being rehabilitated.

Despite the increase in highway construction activity, highway congestion continued to be a major concern for citizens, especially in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. That concern often became a demand for more roads, built more quickly. In 1996, the General Assembly created the Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia to address ways of meeting the projected highway needs through the year 2015. Those needs involved projects some citizens considered vital and others considered optional, but together they totaled $34.7 billion, far more than the state had projected in revenues over that time period.

Shortly after taking office in 1998, Gov. Jim Gilmore appointed a Governor’s Commission on Transportation Policy to study Virginia’s present and future transportation needs. Subsequently, in August 1999, Gov. Gilmore unveiled a transportation plan called “Innovative Progress.” Then, in the spring of 2000, the General Assembly passed much of the governor’s plan into law, as well as its own transportation measures, in the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000. The act provided a new record-setting transportation budget of $3.2 billion for fiscal year 2001—an increase of 22 percent over the previous year’s budget.

Legislators also stipulated in the act of 2000 that there would be three tiers of priorities for upcoming highway construction projects. Projects of first priority would be partially funded from what became known as the Priority Transportation Fund, a fund created under the act. It would draw funding from increased efficiencies in motor fuel tax collections, dedication of a portion of taxes paid on insurance premiums, and specified savings within VDOT.

Among the priority projects listed were improvements to Route 58, construction of the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia, a third crossing for Hampton Roads waterways, and widening of I-81 through Virginia. Second in priority would be projects in the Six-Year Improvement Program to be financed in part with money from the state’s General Fund. Third in priority would be other projects in the Six-Year Improvement Program, or those that would be added to it in the future.

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7 things to inspect on your car this summer

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If you’re getting ready for a summer road trip or plan to take your car out for its first spin of the season, here are seven things you should inspect before you get behind the wheel.

1. Tires. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have sufficient tread. Do the same for the spare and make certain you have a jack and lug wrench in the trunk.

2. Lights. Ask someone to stand outside your car as you turn on your headlights, brake lights, and reverse lights to ensure that they’re working.

3. Windshield wipers. Make sure your wipers are in good condition and can effectively clear your windows. You should also inspect the sprayer and top off the windshield washer fluid.

4. Fluids. Inspect the oil as well as the brake, power steering, and transmission fluids. If any of these run out, your car’s components may get damaged.

5. Battery. Inspect your battery for signs of corrosion, cracks, and leaks. Test it with a battery tester, voltmeter, or multimeter. Alternatively, you can get it inspected and tested by a mechanic. Batteries should be tested twice a year and replaced approximately every five years.

6. Undercarriage. Look under your car for leaks. A fluid leak can cause your steering or braking system to fail.

7. Air conditioner. Make sure your air conditioner is working well. Also, check the heating for those chilly mornings when you need to defrost the windows.

If you notice any issues during your inspection, make an appointment at your local garage.

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5 reasons to apply a paint protection film to your car

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Do you hate seeing nicks and scratches on your car? If so, a paint protection film can help make dings a thing of the past. Here are five reasons to add this coating to your car.

1. To protect the paint
Paint protection film helps keep painted surfaces on your car shiny and blemish-free by protecting them from scratches, dents, fading, and rust. This coating is made of thermoplastic urethane and is completely transparent.

2. To increase the resale value

While scratches and dings won’t affect your vehicle’s performance, they can significantly reduce the price you’ll get for your car if you decide to sell it. Note that the film can easily and safely be removed by a professional at any time.

3. To protect certain components
Paint protection film can be applied to headlights and mirrors to shield them from damage caused by upturned gravel and road debris. Since the coating is transparent, it doesn’t affect its operation or visibility.

4. To save you money on repairs
Touch-ups for scuffs and scratches can be costly. If you have a protective coating on your car, it could spare you from needing to make small repairs. It can also prevent you from having to fix broken headlights and mirrors.

5. To make cleaning easier
Paint protection film repels dust and debris, thereby reducing the need for frequent car cleaning. Moreover, you can simply wipe the coating with a soft cloth instead of water when you want to quickly spiff up your vehicle.

To apply paint protection film to your car, contact your local garage or auto detailer.

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What vehicle should you rent for your summer road trip?

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If you’re planning a road trip and need a set of wheels, renting is probably your best option. Here are four types of vehicles to consider booking for your next trip.

1. Convertible
In fair weather, cruising in a convertible can be fun, especially if you rarely get the chance. If you’re going on a brief trip and don’t plan on venturing too far off the beaten track, then taking a convertible will likely add to your excitement. Just be sure to check the weather in advance.

2. Sedan

A sedan is a practical vehicle to choose for a two-person road trip. If you opt for a small-sized one, it won’t burn much fuel and you’ll save money on gas. Moreover, sedans tend to be reliable and easy to repair, meaning there’s little chance that you’ll run into trouble during your trip.

3. Minivan or SUV
A minivan or SUV is the best vehicle to choose for a family road trip. Be sure to get a model with a multimedia system so that you can easily entertain your kids during the drive. Minivans and SUVs are also great choices for adventurous couples who want to rough it by sleeping in the back of their car on an inflatable mattress.

4. RV
Although it’s the priciest vehicle to rent and costs the most to fill up, an RV also doubles as a hotel room, complete with a kitchen, shower, toilet, and beds. It’s a great option if you’re camping as a family and intending to visit several places since you won’t need to pack up your things or pitch a tent multiple times.

Whatever vehicle you choose for your road trip, be sure to stay safe behind the wheel and take along an emergency supply kit.

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Does the music you listen to affect the way you drive?

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According to research conducted by the South China University of Technology, the type of music a motorist listens to influences the way they drive. Here’s what the study uncovered.

Findings
Study participants experienced a higher heart rate when they were exposed to raucous music versus when they were exposed to gentler music or no music at all. As a result, they drove faster and less carefully. The key factor was shown to be song tempo, which was measured in beats per minute.

When participants listened to music with a tempo of above 120 beats per minute, they tended to drive faster than they did when listening to music with a slower tempo. The difference in driving speed amounted to about 10 miles per hour. Lane changes also occurred twice as often when drivers listened to this kind of music.

The song that caused participants to drive the fastest and most erratically was “American Idiot” by Green Day, which has a tempo of 189 beats per minute. The song that was most conducive to safe driving was “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, which has a tempo of 63 beats per minute.

Recommendations
To thwart the impulse to speed, the best songs to listen to in the car are ones with a tempo that’s about the same as your resting heart rate, or between 60 and 80 beats per minute. There’s no shortage of tunes that fit the bill, from “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz to “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith.

If you tend to speed, there are certain types of music you should avoid when you’re on the road including heavy metal, drum, and bass, techno and dubstep. The tempo of most songs in these music genres is more than 120 beats per minute.

The next time you create a driving playlist, be sure to choose tunes that help you maintain your speed and keep you calm and collected on the road.

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The experience of driving an EV

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Electric vehicles (EVs) are reliable, economical, and eco-friendly. But what’s it like to drive one? Here’s what you should know.

In-town driving
EVs are well suited to the stop-and-go nature of city driving. Thanks to the regenerative braking system in most models, the kinetic energy that’s lost every time you apply the brakes is recovered and used to power the motor. This allows you to drive longer on a single charge.

Since an EV’s motor doesn’t idle, you won’t waste any power if you get stuck in traffic. And when congested roads do clear, the instant torque of an electric car allows you to accelerate with ease.

Lastly, an increasing number of municipalities offer reserved or free parking for electric vehicles.

Highway driving
Electric cars must meet the same safety standards as conventional vehicles, so you can cruise down the highway without worry. Additionally, since the battery pack is usually installed in the floor, most models have a low center of gravity which allows for better handling.

Owning an EV can also speed up your commute since many areas allow you to use carpool lanes if you’re driving an electric car. You’ll also likely appreciate the quieter ride as they make considerably less noise than gas-powered cars. And if you need to use a toll road or take a ferry, many are cheaper or free for electric cars.

Finally, since EVs have fewer parts than vehicles that run on fuel, they don’t require much in the way of maintenance and repairs. You’ll spend more time on the road and less at the garage.

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4 tips for reversing with a trailer

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If you’ve never used a trailer before, you’ll need to be careful. Hitching one to your car can make driving a challenge, especially when you need to reverse. Here are four tips to make backing up with a trailer safe and easy.

1. Assess your surroundings
Driving with a trailer reduces visibility. Before you start to reverse, it’s a good idea to get out of the car and make sure nothing is in your way. Identify any trees, fence posts, and other obstructions that you’ll need to avoid when you back up.

2. Adjust your mirrors

A trailer adds considerable length to your vehicle, so the regular position of your mirrors may be incorrect. Adjust the angle of your side and review mirrors to minimize blind spots.

3. Grip the bottom of the wheel
If you turn while reversing, your car and trailer will go in opposite directions with the hitch acting as a pivot point. To avoid confusion, hold the bottom of the steering wheel. This way your hands will move in the same direction as the trailer when you turn. If you rotate the wheel to the right, for example, your hands will move up the left side of the wheel and the trailer will reverse to the left.

4. Advance slowly
Once you’re ready to reverse, proceed with caution. If you become disoriented or something in the environment changes, stop. Drive forward to straighten up your vehicle and trailer, then try again.

In order to successfully reverse while towing a trailer, you need patience and practice. To make things easier, ask a friend to guide you from outside of the car or invest in a backup camera so you can see where you’re going.

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