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A history of roads in Virginia: Strengthening the organization



A mowing crew works on the median of I-95 north of Ashland in 1965.

Other study commission recommendations led in 1964 to steps aimed at equipping the Department of Highways to better meet the growing challenge. The General Assembly established the urban street system as a separate entity for the distribution of highway funds and directed that it receive a minimum of 14 percent of all revenue exclusive of federal interstate funds.

The urban system was to include extensions of the state’s primary routes within cities and towns and other local streets of adequate width and surface. Eighty-five percent of the cost of building improvements on this system was to be paid for with state highway funds or with a combination of state and federal funds, with the local governments providing the remaining 15 percent. In addition, millions of dollars in state road-user revenue were to be returned to the cities and towns each year for maintenance of local streets.

As another result of the study commission, the Department of Highways was reorganized to reduce the number of individuals reporting directly to the commissioner, giving him more hours a day to concentrate on broad policy and administrative issues.

The new organizational structure provided for the commissioner to carry out his assignment largely through the delegation of responsibility to two persons — a deputy commissioner-chief engineer and a director of administration. The division organization also was to be changed somewhat to more effectively meet the public’s highway needs. Its landscape division, organized in 1930 to deal mainly with erosion control, beautification, and outdoor advertising control, was expanded into an environmental quality division to coordinate increasing ecological considerations. A metropolitan transportation planning division was established to prepare long-range, comprehensive plans for more than 45 cities and towns and to aid in development of urban mass transit  improvements. A data processing division was formed to take maximum advantage of the remarkable time savings permitted through computers. A management services division became  responsible for ensuring implementation of internal policies and procedures.

Through the 1960s and into the ‘70s, the emphasis of the organization continued largely on the interstate and arterial programs, and on upgrading older routes by elimination of obsolete bridges, poor alignment, and curves. The factor of “need” was added to others, such as population, land area, miles of road, and vehicular miles of travel, which long had been considered in apportioning funds.

Improvements also continued on the secondary road system. By 1972, four decades after the system was established, 27,000 secondary roads were hard-surfaced, compared to 2,000 miles at the outset. Only 400 miles remained unsurfaced, and most of them served fewer than a dozen vehicles daily. The public’s investment in Virginia’s highways was valued at more than $5 billion. With nearly 12,000 employees, the Department of Highways was the largest agency in state government and was among the half-dozen largest employers in the commonwealth.

A strong corps of private contractors had developed, and major construction projects were built under contracts awarded on a low-bid basis. Prospective bidders on this work were required to be “pre-qualified” on the basis of their experience, manpower, equipment, and financial resources, to ensure satisfactory completion of contracts.

Questions about the importance of road and bridge maintenance had vanished long before, and millions of dollars were spent annually to protect the public’s investment and to keep the facilities in safe condition.

Some 5,000 department employees were assigned to maintenance operations — snow and ice control, roadside mowing, as well as resurfacing, clearing side ditches, collecting litter, and a multitude of other jobs. The road system they maintained had become the nation’s third-largest, covering about 51,000 miles. But for maintenance personnel, the demands sometimes were far from routine. The night of Aug. 19, 1969, was an example.

It was then that rains from Hurricane Camille touched off flooding that swept across large portions of western and central Virginia, striking while people slept. The U.S. Weather Bureau said later that 27 inches of rain had fallen in about eight hours near the little community of Massies Mill in Nelson County. Great torrents of water streamed down the mountainsides, uprooting trees that became battering rams against the houses below. Ordinarily tranquil rivers and creeks poured out of their banks and rushed ahead with massive destruction. Some said it was the worst storm in America’s history, and it struck hard at much of the nation’s East Coast. In Virginia 114 persons were killed, 37 others were missing, and more than 100 were injured.

Two hundred miles of the state’s roads were destroyed, and nearly 100 bridges were wrecked. The cost of repairing the facilities alone would exceed $20 million. Less than three years later, on the night of June 19, 1972, rain from a new hurricane — one called Agnes and considered a tropical storm by the time it reached Virginia — caused similar destruction over a wider area from the western regions to the coast.

At least 13 people died; dozens were injured. The property damage climbed above that of Camille, and estimates placed the toll at $160.7 million. Six hundred miles of roads were damaged; 104 bridges were left useless — washed away, heavily damaged, or without passable approaches.

Road maintenance crews hadn’t seen problems of these proportions before. Yet, they worked around the clock, and traffic was moving again within hours in many of the flood-wrecked areas and within a few days in most other places. The urgency was underscored because frequently other emergency and rescue operations could not proceed until roads were reopened and river and creek crossings were restored.

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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