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.
What to do in the event of an accident
Staying calm when you’re involved in a car accident is never easy. It is far easier to handle the situation if you know exactly what to do. Here are the steps to take in the event of an accident—this is a short guide that you can keep in your glove compartment so you won’t forget anything of importance in the stress of the moment.
• If you are involved in an accident, however minor it may be, you are legally required to pull over. If you don’t, you could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident, commonly known as hit and run.
• If there are injuries or significant damage, or if you believe that one of the drivers involved has violated the Criminal Code (if you suspect drunk driving, for example), you should call the police.
• If possible, move your vehicle out of traffic. Otherwise, turn on your hazard lights or use flares to be clearly visible to other drivers.
• You must share the following information with the other drivers involved: name, address, driver’s licence number, registration number, and information related to your insurance. If the damaged vehicle does not belong to the driver, you should also get the name and address of the owner.
• While waiting for the police, make a sketch or take a photo of the scene of the accident. Note the position of the cars and the direction in which they were traveling.
One last tip: avoid any unpleasant surprises by entrusting the repair of your vehicle to a reliable auto body repair shop.
In an accident, you are required to stop, even if it’s only a fender bender.
Cell phones and texting at the wheel = accidents
Texting while driving at 55 mph is somewhat equivalent to crossing the length of a football field with your eyes closed. How can that be? Well, drivers who are glancing at a cell phone or who are texting are taking their eyes off the road for 4-6 seconds, the time it takes to travel 110 yards. That is what a 2009 study carried out by researchers at an American university revealed.
No wonder, then, that drivers who use their cell phones while at the wheel have a 38 percent higher risk of being involved in an accident than drivers who don’t allow themselves to take calls or read text messages. Being distracted by a smart phone affects a driver’s performance, including the ability to perform basic tasks such as driving in a straight line. It also reduces a driver’s field of vision and ability to avoid obstacles. That is exactly why calls and text messages—which are seldom urgent—cause numerous accidents every year, sending lots of customers to auto body repair shops or patients to hospitals.
Handling a cell phone while driving can also result in costly traffic violations. Indeed, a moment of inattention while talking on a cell phone frequently results in running a red light or not respecting a right of way, which in turn increases the risk of collision.
Prevent accidents by switching off your phone while driving, or by asking one of your passengers to answer for you. If you must use your phone, adopt the safe practice of stopping in a parking lot or service area to take the call.
If your cell phone rings while driving, be sure to stop in a safe location before you answer it.
A history of roads in Virginia: New ways of doing transportation business
As the new century continued to unfold, national trends in the public sphere were readily apparent in Virginia. Citizens were seeking more involvement in transportation issues as well as a role in planning future initiatives. They also were demanding more accountability from government and more transparency with the public’s business. Further, they thought government should do more with fewer resources.
Consequently, VDOT took some bold steps. One was an accountability system developed by employees in 2003 called the “Dashboard.” The Web-based tool became an early warning system for construction project managers, showing them in an instant which projects were on track and which were falling behind or going over budget. Citizens were invited to view the Dashboard online and to communicate with managers about projects important to them. In 2005, “Dashboard II” was launched with additional information on highway operations, engineering, safety, finance and the environment.
Employees also designed a new system to estimate costs of future transportation projects. One of the first in the nation, the system addressed the department’s tendency to underestimate project costs by an average of 187 percent—a margin reduced to 30 percent the first year of the system’s use. In addition, the agency began running a cash flow analysis to ensure that money would be on hand for approved projects.
Project managers, with authority and accountability, were assigned to all projects, not just the larger ones. VDOT also increased its contingent of engineers with professional licensure from 182 to 270 between 2003 and 2005. Further, in a major cost-savings initiative, the number of employees was reduced by 1,400 between 2002 and 2004; as vacant positions went unfilled, employees picked up added duties and work was outsourced.
An introduction to adaptive cruise control
You’re probably familiar with the cruise control function featured in most cars, but are you acquainted with the ins and outs of adaptive cruise control? Here’s what you should know.
What’s adaptive cruise control?
Adaptive cruise control allows you to both maintain a fixed speed and sustain a set distance from the car ahead of you. Depending on the car model, a laser or radar calculates the distance and speed of the vehicle you’re following. This enables it to automatically adjust its pace if the car in front of you slows down or another driver cuts you off. Some systems will even slow you down to a full stop if necessary.
Your vehicle will accelerate to the programmed speed again when it’s safe to do so, like when the vehicle in front of you picks up speed or switches lanes. As is the case with traditional cruise control, you can manually accelerate and brake at any time.
A few precautions
There are several things to be mindful of if you’re using adaptive cruise control.
• The system’s range can vary from model to model, and some will only function at speeds above 16 miles per hour.
• The laser detection feature may not function properly in bad weather or when the car ahead of you is very dirty and doesn’t reflect light adequately.
• The system may not be able to detect a stopped vehicle.
• This tool doesn’t in any way exempt you from paying attention to the road. Notably, you need to engage the brake if the car in front of you suddenly stops.
Adaptive cruise control can be a useful feature, but you need to have a thorough understanding of how it works. Only use it once you’ve familiarized yourself with the relevant information in your owner’s manual.
A history of roads in Virginia: Unexpected setbacks come in the new century
Even before taking office in 2002, Gov. Mark R. Warner expressed concern about financing and scheduling highway projects, as well as about cost overruns for new projects and inadequate budget projections to maintain the highway infrastructure. The construction program so dramatically enlarged just two years earlier by the previous administration and the General Assembly was being severely crimped by the downturn in the economy. Rosy revenue projections foreseen for transportation in late 2001 were realized as untenable in 2002. Project cost estimates did not adequately account for inflation and were significantly low. The available funding and the extensive improvements in the transportation system called for were recognized as incompatible.
The new governor called for a “realistic and achievable” Six-Year Program for transportation improvements and directed VDOT to produce it. Secretary of Transportation Whittington W. Clement, recently appointed by the governor, indicated a sharp reduction in the construction program was necessary, saying, “We can’t do it all, but whatever it is, we’re going to do it well.”
Gov. Warner also appointed a new commissioner of transportation, Philip A. Shucet, and within weeks he and VDOT staff prepared a Six-Year Program that reduced the previously approved program by nearly a third. At the same time, Virginia’s aging highway system required more maintenance, further reducing available funding for new construction. Virginia, which long held “pay as you go” as its transportation funding philosophy, had to use Federal Reimbursement Anticipation Notes (FRANs), or special-use bonds, to help cover some construction projects’ costs.
It appeared to be the beginning of an era of retrenchment, but at the same time, 1,157 projects across the state remained in the $7.3 billion Six-Year Program. And, simultaneously, motorists across Virginia rated highly the service they received from roads and highways, even in areas where traffic congestion was problematic.
The transportation theme of the new century, however, had been changed from spending and building to one of a realistic, credible, and systematic improvement process.
The AEB system: tomorrow’s must-have car safety feature
The most important innovation in automotive safety technology in recent years is the automatic emergency braking (AEB) system. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, cars with this feature are in half as many rear-end crashes as other vehicles.
The ABCs of AEB systems
Thanks to sensors, radars and cameras, an AEB system is able to detect objects in front of the car and automatically apply the brakes when a collision is imminent. AEB systems generally include one or more of the following features:
• Dynamic brake support (DBS), which enhances a drivers’ braking when they aren’t pressing the brakes firmly enough to avoid a collision.
• Crash imminent braking (CIB), which automatically applies the car’s brakes when the driver has failed to take action to avoid a crash.
• Forward collision warning (FCW). This feature alerts drivers of an imminent collision with beeping, a flashing light in the instrument panel or by tightening the seat belt. If the driver fails to brake despite the warning, the CIB system (if included) kicks in.
Some but not all AEB systems are able to detect pedestrians as well as cars.
Availability of AEB systems
In 2018, 30 percent of new vehicles came standard with AEB systems, while 40 percent more offered them as an option. By 2022, virtually all new cars sold in North America will come standard with AEB systems.
AEB systems are meant to be a safeguard against distracted driving, which has become a serious problem on our roads. However, it’s in no way a substitute for an alert, conscientious driver.