Two governors in this period gave strong support to the mushrooming good roads movement. They were Andrew Jackson Montague, the state’s chief executive from 1902 to 1906, and his successor, Claude A. Swanson, who served until 1910. Their recommendations to the General Assembly in 1906 helped set the state government’s course in road development for the years ahead.
Meeting in Richmond, the legislature created the first State Highway Commission, giving final approval to the legislation on March 6, 1906. A state highway commissioner was appointed by the governor with General Assembly confirmation. Legislation required that the commissioner be a Virginia citizen, as well as a “civil engineer and a person well-versed in road-building.”
Legislation also dictated that the commission was to include three professors of civil engineering, one each from the University of Virginia (U.Va.), Virginia Military Institute (VMI), and what was then Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute at Blacksburg. These commission members were chosen by the boards of visitors at the respective institutions.
Gov. Swanson appointed Philip St. Julien Wilson, a Powhatan County native and a civil engineering graduate in the class of 1886 at VMI, as the first commissioner. Wilson was 38 and serving as assistant city engineer for Richmond at the time of his appointment.
Joining Wilson on the first commission were William M. Thornton, dean of the engineering department at U.Va.; Col. T. A. Jones, civil engineering professor at VMI; and Col. R. A. Marr, dean of engineering at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute.
The law specified that the commissioner “shall have a general supervision of the construction and repair of the main traveled roads in the state; the Commissioner may recommend to the local road authorities of any county, and to the Governor, needed improvements in the public roads; he shall supply technical information on road building to any citizen or officer in the state, and from time to time publish for public use such information as will be generally useful for road improvement.”
While the counties kept the responsibility for actually making the improvements, they now had a new state agency to which they could turn for help. For example, they could apply to the commissioner for civil engineering advice, and if he concluded that a proposed project would be permanent and on a main road and that it was practical, his office would prepare detailed plans and specifications and, at the county’s expense, assign a civil engineer to supervise construction.
The 1906 legislature also established the state convict road force as a source of labor. “All prisoners convicted of a crime and sentenced to either hard labor on the public roads or to imprisonment in jail and all persons imprisoned in jail for the non-payment of fine and costs, shall, when delivered upon order of the superintendent of the penitentiary for such purpose, constitute the state convict road force,” the statute read.
For some years before, convict labor had been available to the counties for road work, but not more than half of the counties used it. After the 1906 legislation, the convict labor was channeled to roads that would benefit the whole state.
The commissioner also encouraged county officials to look beyond their own borders to the importance of working toward a coordinated, statewide highway system because still, to the frustration of early motorists, an improved road in one county might shrink to a rutted trail or disappear entirely in another. Boat or train remained the most certain means of traveling long distances in reasonable comfort.
In the commission’s first annual report to the governor and General Assembly in October 1907, Wilson shed light on the first year’s operation:
“This department being newly established some time was necessarily required for organization and preparation for carrying out the provisions of the law to the best advantage,” he wrote. “Efforts along this line proved that men in the state who were familiar with the work of permanent road improvement were difficult to secure. Competent engineers and foremen are obtainable, but comparatively few with any experience in modern highway construction, and without the services of such men road work cannot be carried on to the best advantage.”
Moreover, he added, “Much preliminary work had to be done by the county authorities before they were actually ready to begin work. The problem of raising the necessary funds to defray the counties’ portion of the expense was, in most instances, a difficult one, and met with many obstacles and delays. The machinery and equipment furnished by the counties has been, in several instances, very inadequate for the proper handling of the work.”
For some months, he wrote, “great difficulty was experienced in securing prisoners from jails for service in the state convict road force, and the number of convicts in the state penitentiary who, under the law, were available for road work was very limited. As a consequence, the organization of the first force was not completed until October 1906, and it was not until well on in December 1906, that we were able to put to work as many as five forces of about 50 men each.”
Wilson observed that while criticism had been voiced in several quarters “about the undesirability, even inhumanity, of using convict labor on public works, all of which may have been justified,” the fact was that “the men in the road camps seem satisfied, and many have expressed to me a preference for this work to remaining in jail.”
The commissioner, after barely more than a year on the job and engaged in what had become largely a mission of public education, also commented on the inadequacy of funds available for road maintenance. It was a problem that had plagued the turnpikes a century before, and it would continue for another decade. “This is a matter of the greatest importance, as even the best constructed roads require frequent, though not expensive, attention to keep them in good condition and to prevent the extensive and costly repairs that the lack of such attention will necessitate,” he wrote. “I would suggest than an amendment to the law be made to the effect that state aid will be extended to the construction of a road only upon condition that the county applying for such aid agree to make suitable provision for the up-keep of the improved road.”
The first improvement project completed with the help of the commission was the road between Williamsburg and Jamestown Island. Most of the road was surfaced with gravel and a mixture of sand and clay; about two miles were macadamized.
The General Assembly in 1906 had appropriated $16,000 to support the fledgling road program for the period from July 1, 1906, when the legislation became effective, to Feb. 28, 1908. It was to pay the salaries of the small staff—the commissioner, his assistant, a bridge engineer, a draftsman, a clerk, and a stenographer—and to furnish the offices and to purchase supplies.
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.
6 ways to pay less for auto insurance
A host of factors can influence the amount you pay for your automobile insurance premiums. Here are six ways you may be able to lower them.
1. Shop around. Prices can vary significantly between different insurance providers. Make sure to work with an experienced broker who can help you find the most affordable plan.
2. Use affiliation discounts. Unions, professional associations and alumni associations often have special agreements with particular insurers. You could be eligible for a better price via the organizations you’re already a part of.
3. Negotiate. Don’t hesitate to ask for a discount. Some companies offer them to full-time students or young people whose parents have policies with them.
4. Combine. If both your car and home are insured by the same provider, you’ll likely receive a discount. In some cases, it could be substantial.
5. Pay a higher deductible. If you can afford it, committing to a higher deductible in case of an accident usually means you’ll pay a lower premium.
6. Drive safely. A good driving record means cheaper insurance. Accidents, driving infractions and prior insurance claims all contribute to higher premiums.
Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to an insurance broker. Oftentimes they have access to policies that aren’t available to the general public.