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A history of roads in Virginia: Meeting the challenge



The Commission on Transportation in the 21st Century (COT 21) identified more than $20 billion
worth of highway construction needs.

Until 1984, the eight transportation districts had remained as originally established in 1922—Bristol, Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Richmond, Salem, Staunton, and Suffolk. The 1984 General Assembly authorized the creation of the Northern Virginia district to respond more effectively to the area’s transportation problems. The newly formed transportation district was carved from the existing Culpeper district to include the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William.

In the General Assembly, the growing influence of urban areas also led to greater pressures to modify again the formulas that allocated road-building monies around the state.

In July 1985, the department began using a new allocation formula, enacted by the General Assembly, to distribute funds for highway construction and other programs.

It was the first major change in highway fund distribution since 1977, and it increased funding to urban areas.

Under the new formula, 5.67 percent of the money came off the top for hardsurfacing dirt roads. Of the remainder, 40 percent was allocated for improving the primary system. The remaining 60 percent was split equally between the secondary and urban systems.

In 1986, newly inaugurated Gov. Gerald L. Baliles presented a series of initiatives to improve transportation and prepare for the 21st century. His initiatives and subsequent legislative action marked a period of sweeping changes that eliminated the dependence on user fees only and “pay-as-you-go” financing for transportation needs. On Jan. 13, 1986, in his State of the Commonwealth Address, Gov. Baliles called for a vastly different approach to paying for transportation:

“Periodic tax increases have helped only by providing new revenues, but they only postpone the problems — they don’t solve them,” the governor said. “Even worse, the adjustments to our highway funding formula have divided us, competing with one another for the inadequate funds… the heart of the problem now is that we can’t begin to plan for future needs, if we can’t complete meeting today’s needs.”

Gov. Baliles called for a blue-ribbon, non-partisan commission of leaders from government, business, finance, and transportation. Its challenge was to study how to plan and finance the comprehensive transportation system Virginia would need to take it into the next century.

The Commission on Transportation in the 21st Century (COT 21) identified more than $20 billion worth of needs in highway construction, rail, public transit, ports, and airports by the turn of the century. To meet those needs, the commission recommended major changes in the way Virginia paid for transportation projects.

Traditionally, users had paid for transportation in Virginia. Improvements and maintenance were paid through such sources as taxes on motor fuels and license plates. Roads were paid for out of current funds—no general fund financing, no debt financing or bond issues, except those for which there was a specific revenue source, such as a toll road.

The commission recommended that the user fees be increased slightly, and also recommended that the state’s general sales tax be raised and the increase dedicated strictly to transportation uses. Specific percentages would be allocated to specific modes of travel—ports, airports, public transportation, and roads. The commission also recommended the use of bonds to finance major, long-term projects.

While the commission was doing its research, the 1986 General Assembly appropriated $150 million in “seed money” to complete designs and purchase right of way for critical highway projects so they would be ready to be built when the additional monies were made available.

In September 1986, the legislature met in a special session and agreed with the governor and the commission that “business as usual” was not enough to address Virginia’s transportation needs. A new and vastly different approach was needed to build the road to the future.

To help stabilize the funds, the assembly added a half-cent to the state’s general sales tax, raising it to 4.5 cents on the dollar. It also added 2.5 cents to the fuel tax, making it 17.5 cents per gallon. Further it increased the vehicle titling tax from 2 to 3 percent of the purchase price and added $3 to the annual license plate fee.

With part of the general sales tax earmarked for transportation, the state was assured that funds would keep pace with inflation and would not be influenced as much by fluctuating oil prices and vehicles that use less fuel.

The new revenues generated more than $420 million a year, with 8.4 percent designated by law for public transportation systems, 4.2 percent for port improvements, and 2.4 percent for airport improvements. The remaining 85 percent was dedicated for highways.

During that session, the General Assembly also changed the name of the agency to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to reflect the increased emphasis on diverse modes of transportation. The legislature also renamed the State Highway and Transportation Board as the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and expanded the board from 12 to 15 members, with five serving at large and the commissioner serving as chairman.

In addition to increasing its commitment to transportation in general, the General Assembly increased its commitment to separate transportation programs specifically for economic development. This money was used to construct “access” roads or rail spurs to factories and other industrial sites where companies were locating or expanding.

By 1990, $6 million a year was available in road and rail industrial access funds, up from $3 million in 1986. Similar programs provided new or improved roads to recreational areas and airports.
Economic development also was the reason the 1989 legislature took the major step of providing special financing to widen and straighten the longest road in the state. That road, Route 58, stretches more than 500 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Kentucky border at the western tip of Virginia.

To pay for the project, the legislature authorized $600 million in bonds to be sold over several years and paid off with $40 million a year from the state’s “recordation tax,” the state fee imposed at the county courthouse or city hall when real estate transfers are recorded.

The legislature also took several other actions in the last half of the decade to increase funds for transportation projects. It gave localities the right to create special tax districts and impose local income taxes. In the special tax districts, land owners and developers paid a special tax, up to 20 cents per $100 assessed, to be used to build or improve roads sooner than would have been possible without the special tax. A local income tax of up to 1 percent could be levied in certain localities if the local voters authorized it.

The General Assembly also gave localities $40 million a year for five years from the recordation tax to spend on education or transportation, beginning in 1990. This was separate from the $40 million a year designated for upgrading Route 58.

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

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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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Traffic accidents down dramatically as people stay at home



It might not be safe to hug a stranger, but driving on freeways is safer than ever.

All over major U.S. cities traffic is down, pollution is down, accidents are down.

According to a study by the University of California, Davis, California traffic accidents have fallen by 50 percent since March 19, when the populace was ordered to stay at home.

Typically, there are 1,000 collisions and 400 accidents that result in injuries or fatalities every day on the congested freeways of California.

Now the numbers are 500 collisions and 200 injury/fatality accidents.

The study measured these highways: I-5, both north of Los Angeles and toward Oceanside, U.S. Route 101, U.S. Route 99, state road 152 toward Los Banos and I-280 toward Daly City.

Pollution is also down worldwide. A Stanford scientist studied satellite imagery and found a dramatic decline in air pollution. Marshall Burke, assistant professor in the Stanford Department of Earth System Science, predicted that quarantine might save 77,000 lives in China.

In Los Angeles, as April began, residents were enjoying their fourth week of smog-free air.

In fact, the air is clearer from Los Angeles to India, which has 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities. Major cities in India, something new is in the sky: blue. Living with such badly polluted air makes dwellers in such cities uniquely at risk for viruses like Covid-19.

However, scientists say with the resumption of factory work and traffic, blue skies will once again be replaced with gray.

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Car warranties 101



One of the advantages of purchasing a new car is that it comes with a warranty. It’s important, however, for buyers to understand what exactly it covers. Here’s a brief rundown of what you get with both a basic and an extended warranty.

Basic warranty
Also called a factory warranty or a manufacturer’s warranty, a basic warranty is standard with the purchase of any new vehicle. Typically, it comprises multiple warranties. This includes a bumper-to-bumper warranty, which, as the name suggests, covers just about everything between the front and back bumper. It also includes a powertrain warranty, which applies to the engine, transmission, and drivetrain and is usually more limited.

Note that warranties don’t cover cosmetic damage or normal wear and tear; they cover manufacturing defects that were the fault of the automaker.

A standard warranty lasts between three to five years or 36,000 and 60,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Extended warranty
When you purchase a vehicle, sometimes an extended warranty is given as a bonus, but more commonly, it comes at an extra cost. In most cases, an extended warranty from the automaker is simply an extension of the factory warranty.

However, you may also opt for an extended warranty from a third-party provider, which may offer more comprehensive coverage and perks like roadside assistance.

Note that nothing forces you to purchase an extended warranty right away. You can wait until the factory warranty is about to expire before getting this extra protection.

Warranties differ between car makes and models, so always take the time to familiarize yourself with any car warranty you receive or purchase.

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Top 5 driver-assistance technologies



Driver-assistance technologies contribute to your safety on the road. Here are five handy features available in many newer cars.

1. Traction control
This technology is designed to prevent loss of traction when the car is accelerating. It senses when one wheel is spinning faster than the others and automatically engages the brake on that wheel. This is a useful feature to have in winter driving conditions when a loss of traction can cause the car to slide.

2. Blindspot detection
This feature uses sensors to monitor the sides and rear of the car and alert the driver when another car enters into their blind spot. Most systems warn the driver of the potential hazard with a flashing light mounted on the side-view mirrors or rear-view mirror. However, some systems use audio alerts or cause the steering wheel or driver’s seat to lightly vibrate.

3. Automatic emergency braking
This technology detects upcoming obstacles and automatically reduces the car’s speed or brings it to a stop when there’s a risk of collision. The sensors are able to detect slowed and stopped traffic and, in more advanced systems, pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals.

4. Lane departure warning
These systems detect the lines on the road and warn drivers anytime they move out of their lane without using the turn signal. Some systems use flashing lights on the dashboard to alert the driver, while others use a vibrating steering wheel or driver’s seat.

5. Backing aids
These systems detect objects in the car’s path when it’s reversing and alert the driver using a warning light or warning sound. Some newer cars also have a backup camera, which gives the driver a clearer view of the obstacles behind the car.

Some additional driver-assistance technologies worth asking your local car dealer about are adaptive cruise control, driver monitoring and adaptive lighting.

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5 key steps for taking your car out of storage



Spring is here, and if you happen to have a summer vehicle tucked away, now’s the time to take it out of storage. Here are five essential steps to take before you hit the road.

1. Check the fluids. If you didn’t change the oil before putting your car into storage for the winter, do it now. You should also check the other fluids, including your coolant, brake, transmission, and windshield wa¬sher fluids. Top these up if necessary.

2. Inspect the tires. Even if they look fine, check the pressure in your tires as it may have dropped over the winter. If necessary, inflate them to the manufacturer’s requirements. Visually inspect them for wear, cracks and bulges, and repair or replace them if necessary.

3. Connect the battery. If your battery wasn’t connected to a maintainer or tender over the winter, charge it fully. Before reconnecting it, check the wires and terminals for corrosion.

4. Perform a visual inspection. Check all visible electric wires and hoses for damage. Ensure that there are no foreign objects or signs of pest infestation under the hood, in the trunk and in the cabin. Finally, look for signs of damage to the paint and body.

5. Replace worn out parts. Air filters can accumulate dust over the winter and windshield wipers can become dry and cracked from disuse. If necessary, install replacements before driving.

When driving your car for the first time after an extended period in storage, it’s normal for the wheels to vibrate for a few minutes until any flat spots have rounded out. Similarly, the brakes may be noisy the first time you use them. If these things don’t go away after driving for about half an hour, or you notice other irregularities, bring your car to a professional to have it inspected.

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What affects an EV’s range?



If you purchase an electric vehicle (EV) with a 125-mile range, can you reasonably expect to drive that distance between each charge? Unfortunately, the answer is no. This is because the battery does more than powering the engine. In fact, there are many factors that contribute to the battery’s range, including the following:

• The electrical system. An EV’s battery is responsible for all the systems in the car. As a result, running the fan or entertainment unit will require some of the battery’s power.

• The weather. Cold or windy weather can reduce an EV’s range by up to 30 percent. This is largely due to the need to heat the car’s cabin and engine. Hot weather also affects range, but not to the same extent.

• Where you’re driving. Because many EVs use the power generated while braking to recharge the battery, driving in the city increases a car’s range while driving at a steady pace on the highway reduces it.

• The load you’re carrying. As with any car, heavy loads are less economical to carry. In order to optimize your car’s range, don’t stow unnecessary items in the trunk.

If you’re worried about running out of juice, your car’s information system will warn you when the battery’s charge is low. However, it’s important to plan ahead to be safe. Always know how far you’re going and make sure that your battery is sufficiently charged to get you there and back.

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