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A history of roads in Virginia: Financing the roads



Wet subgrade is removed in an Amherst County project.

After the war, the road development program regained momentum and sought to keep up with the growing popularity of the auto. More than 25,000 vehicles would be added to the state’s roads in a year’s time. Inevitably, questions persisted about how to raise additional highway revenue to meet the mounting needs.

The state Constitution of 1869 had prohibited any state debt except to meet casual deficits in the revenue, to redeem previous liabilities, or to protect the state in the event of insurrection or war. The same restriction remained in a revised Constitution of 1902, but a later amendment, pushed by the Good Roads Association and approved by 61,000 votes in a 1920 referendum, had permitted the legislature to issue bonds to build or repair roads. Statewide political debate developed about using that permissive borrowing power, however.

State Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. of Winchester, chairman of the Virginia Senate Roads Committee, opposed bonds and urged the levying of a tax of three cents on a gallon of gasoline to produce the revenue. Early in 1923, Gov. E. Lee Trinkle called an extra “roads” session of the General Assembly to decide a course of action. He recommended a temporary “pay-as-you-go” policy until the question of bonds could be considered again by the voters in a referendum.

The legislature approved the Byrd gasoline proposal and ordered that a suggested $50 million bond issue be submitted to referendum in November.

By a margin of some 46,000 votes, the citizens this time rejected the bond issue idea in what was considered in many ways a victory for rural voters. Only 19 counties voted for the bond issue, while it won approval in 17 of the state’s cities. The gasoline tax was destined to become the largest single source of revenue for  road building and maintenance and was to be increased gradually over the years. At the national level, a gasoline tax approved by Congress was to become the principal revenue source for the federally aided road program as well.

During the debate about financing, Virginia’s highway organization continued to be refined. In 1922, the legislature directed that the state be divided geographically into eight highway districts and that available funds be distributed among them in equal shares. Other organizational changes in the commission led to the appointment of Henry G. Shirley, who had been Maryland’s highway administrator, as chairman. Coleman stayed as highway commissioner until his resignation in 1923, and later the positions of chairman and commissioner were combined.

In 1927, as part of a reorganization of state government, the Department of Highways was formally established as a state agency, although the commission staff had been called the “highway department” since the outset. As disconnected sections of improved roads were linked into continuous long- distance routes crossing many states, travelers found themselves steadily more bewildered by a confusing array of directional and informational signs. There was little continuity or standardization from state to state, and it was easy for motorists to get lost in unfamiliar territory.

At the request of the American Association of State Highway Officials, the U.S. secretary of agriculture appointed a committee in March 1925 “to undertake immediately the selection and designation of a comprehensive and uniform scheme for designating such routes in such manner as to give them a conspicuous place among the highways of the country as roads of inter-state and national significance.”

It was this move that led to the beginning of route numbers and to uniform signs for the convenience of motorists throughout the nation, and that produced greater continuity in marking Virginia’s roads. The basic plan provided generally for assigning even numbers to east-west routes and odd numbers to north-south roads.

By 1930, a total of 386,664 motor vehicles were registered in the state. The license tax produced $6,564,000 in revenue, and the gasoline tax produced $7,251,000. The state highway system had been increased to 7,191 miles.

The counties, however, still were plagued by problems of improving and maintaining the local roads for which they were responsible. Most of those roads remained in extremely poor condition. Few counties had engineers on their staffs, and not many had the necessary equipment.

And yet about two-thirds of the state’s workers earned their livelihoods from the land and faced the continuing need of hauling farm products to market. The Depression that swept the nation brought more serious problems, and most rural Virginians had little money to pay the property taxes that had continued as the main source of income for the county roads.

In Richmond and in the district highway offices that had been established around the state, adjustments were made in road operations to aid as many families as possible during the economic crisis of the Depression years.

During the fall of 1931, the commission found that under normal work schedules it could provide employment and wages for only a few additional workers. But a “stagger system,” providing jobs for one force of men one week and another force the next week and continuing the procedure through the construction season, made jobs and income available for 8,000 additional workers. The commission kept this system in effect throughout the Depression.

Next up: The Secondary System

Produced by the
Virginia Department of Transportation
Office of Public Affairs
1401 E. Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

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4 tips for reversing with a trailer



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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How a car’s design can affect your mood



When it comes to choosing a car, the design is an important consideration. It can impact your mood, mental state, and ability to concentrate, which in turn can make you a better and safer driver. Here are three design elements with the power to influence your mind and emotions.

It’s not surprising that a vast majority of cars on the road are either white, grey or black. For many people, these colors suggest wealth and cleanliness. On the other hand, bright and bold tones like red and yellow tend to be associated with youth and dynamism. Similarly, a neutral interior is more likely to have a calming effect on the driver than one that’s flashier.


If there’s too much light in the car’s cabin, it can be a distraction. However, some types of light could help you focus on the road. Warm light is thought to be soothing and comfortable, while cool light is said to make you more alert.

Soft, smooth surfaces are generally associated with positive emotions, whereas rough textures are more likely to evoke negative feelings. Additionally, if the material feels luxurious, it can evoke pride and make for a more comfortable ride.

Next time you’re shopping for a car, pay attention to these details. This way you’re sure to choose a vehicle that truly makes you happy.

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A brief history of the dashboard



In modern cars, dashboards include a variety of useful features such as GPS and a Bluetooth connection. But dashboards weren’t always so multifunctional. Here’s a look at their evolution.

Early dashboards
Dashboards date back to when people relied on horse-drawn carriages for transportation. The front of the carriage was outfitted with leather or a wooden plank to protect passengers from dirt “dashed up” by the horse’s hooves.

When cars were first introduced, the dashboard served a similar purpose to deflect dirt and rocks kicked up by the front wheels. Once manufacturers started putting the engine at

the front of the car, the dashboard also offered protection from the heat and oil.

Over time, cars became increasingly sophisticated. By the 1930s, gauges were installed on the dashboard. This was done to imitate the appearance of cockpits and take advantage of growing consumer interest in airplanes.

The first airbags were introduced in the 1970s and, within two decades, virtually all types of cars had a dashboard equipped with this life-saving device.

Over the years, dashboards have come in a variety of styles and included chrome features, wood panels, and an array of dials. These days, a single touch screen is increasingly the norm. Sleek and versatile, this device reduces the number of buttons on the dashboard while allowing drivers to control everything from the stereo to the air conditioning system.

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How to drive safely with a pet onboard



If you drive with your dog or cat in the car, it can be a distraction. Here’s how to make sure you and your pet arrive at your destination safely.

Follow the rules
Many states have laws in place to prevent distracted driving caused by having an animal in the car. While these regulations vary, they typically forbid you to drive with a pet on your lap.

Additionally, some states ban you from having unrestrained animals in the car cabin or in the bed of a pickup truck while driving.

Secure your pet
If you’re in an accident or have to brake suddenly, an unrestrained animal is likely to be thrown. This can severely injure you, your pet, and any passengers.

To prevent your animal from moving freely around your car while you’re driving, take one of the following precautions:

• Attach your pet to the back seat using a harness

• Place your pet in a securely stowed travel crate

• Confine your pet to the back seat using a safety net

If you want to drive with a cat or dog in the car, these precautions are in your best interest as well as that of your animal companion and the other drivers on the road.

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5 considerations when shopping for a fuel-efficient car



Are you looking for a fuel-efficient car? If so, here are five factors to keep in mind when shopping for your new ride.

1. Weight
A smaller, lighter car will use less gas than a heavier one. Keep in mind that the weight of a car doesn’t depend solely on its size. Certain features, such as electric windows and seats, can considerably increase the weight of a vehicle.

2. Cylinders

Engine cylinders are the chambers where gas is converted into power. Therefore, the number of cylinders in an engine directly affects the car’s fuel consumption. The more cylinders an engine has, the more gas it requires to operate the vehicle.

3. Average consumption
Each vehicle has an average fuel economy for highway, city, and combined driving calculated in miles per gallon (MPG). You can find this information on the manufacturer’s website or by visiting a local dealership.

4. Eco mode
Many modern cars have a fuel-saving setting called eco or economy mode. When activated, this feature adjusts the vehicle’s acceleration speed, transmission and air conditioning to reduce fuel consumption.

5. Aerodynamics
Most cars are designed to minimize the impact of air resistance on speed and fuel consumption. However, accessories installed on a vehicle, such as a permanent luggage rack or sports equipment carrier, can alter the car’s aerodynamics.

Once you’ve chosen a vehicle, you can improve its fuel economy by adjusting the way you drive. In particular, use cruise control whenever possible to reduce the amount of gas your car burns.

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Do you need to break in a new car?



For decades, car manufacturers recommended that drivers break in a new car before pushing it to its limits. Here’s what you should know.

The reason
A break-in period ensures that the moving parts of a car wear down smoothly, thereby reducing the amount of friction between components. It gives the engine, transmission, shocks, brakes, and tires time to work out any imperfections. This process increases the efficiency, durability, and longevity of the vehicle.

The duration

The break-in period is measured in distance rather than time. Each car manufacturer has its own recommended distance, which can be as much as 3,000 miles. However, it’s generally agreed that the first 600 miles are the most important.

The process
Breaking in a car involves adapting the way you drive to avoid overworking the engine and other moving parts. Here’s what’s recommended:

• Don’t push the engine above 3,000 revolutions per minute

• Alternate between accelerating, slowing down, braking and shifting gears on a quiet road

• Avoid abruptly accelerating and braking

• If it’s a manual transmission, shift gears carefully without forcing the gearshift

• Let the engine idle for a few minutes before driving, particularly in cold weather

• Don’t use the vehicle to tow anything

A break-in period is also beneficial after you’ve had one or more moving components of your car replaced. This will help ensure the new parts wear evenly and work optimally.

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