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A history of roads in Virginia: New ways of doing transportation business

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The “Dashboard” is an online system for VDOT managers to see in an instant which projects are on time and on budget. Pictured is “Dashboard II”, an expanded version of the original system.

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.

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Automotive

4 tips for reversing with a trailer

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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

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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.

Color
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.

Light

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.

Textures
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

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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.

Advancements
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

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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

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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?

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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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