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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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How to choose the right car for your family



If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, make sure to carefully consider your family’s needs and lifestyle. Here’s a guide to help you find the right model.

Think about space
Make sure there are enough seats for the whole family and that everyone has a comfortable amount of legroom. You also want to make sure you can easily access the back seat if your children are young. Consider whether you need extra room to accommodate car seats, a stroller, sports equipment, or a pet carrier. Look for a vehicle with fold-away seats or a spacious trunk to ensure you have enough storage space.

Prioritize safety

In addition to airbags, modern cars offer a variety of safety features to protect your family. Since children are often a source of distraction, look for driver-assistance systems that are designed to help prevent collisions.

Opt for simplicity
Choose a vehicle with features that will make your life easier. When you’re laden with groceries or have a kid in your arms, you’ll likely appreciate a trunk that can be opened with your foot or the push of a button. Automatic sliding doors offer a similar convenience, and a smart key or keyless entry system will allow you to keep your hands free.

Look for comfort
Keep in mind that a spacious vehicle doesn’t guarantee optimal comfort. Is the rear ventilation system independent of the one upfront? Are the back seats heated? Does everyone have access to a cup holder? Reflect on which features will be most useful to your family and don’t settle for a car without them.

Consider entertainment
A DVD player and onboard Wi-Fi can be invaluable, especially on a long trip. It might even help prevent siblings from bickering. As a driver, consider whether you could use voice-controlled Bluetooth or a few USB ports. Additionally, make sure the car is compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

When shopping for a new family car, it’s important that you establish your needs, compare models that meet your requirements and factor personal preferences into your decision.

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3 key areas to clean inside your car



It’s important to keep your car’s interior clean. As it’s a closed environment, a buildup of dust and dirt will affect the cabin’s air quality. Here are some key areas to target when tidying up inside your car.

1. The glove compartment
Take everything out of the glove compartment and then clean it with a vacuum cleaner. Alternatively, you can wipe it down with a cloth. If the interior is lined with fabric, use a toothbrush to clean it and dislodge any debris.

2. The seats

To clean the seats in your car, simply wipe them down using a cloth and the appropriate cleaning product. Seams and crevices can be tackled with a vacuum or toothbrush. If your seats are removable, you can do a more comprehensive cleaning by vacuuming underneath them and picking up all the coins, receipts, wrappers, sand, and whatever else you find.

3. The air vents
Over time, dust and debris will build upon the slats of your air vents, affecting the air quality in your car cabin. To clean them, use a toothbrush, paintbrush, or cotton swab. An air duster will also work if the dust isn’t too caked on. When cleaning, make sure to keep the car doors open so dust can disperse outside.

While you can clean your car yourself, it’s still worth taking it into an auto detailer once a year or so. This way you’ll ensure every nook and cranny is free of dirt and debris.

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7 things to inspect on your car this summer



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



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?



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?



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.

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.

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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