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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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A history of roads in Virginia: Milestones and new financial formulas



The second Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, shown here under construction, was completed in 1976.

By 1975, revenue and cost trends stabilized sufficiently to permit resumption of a regularly scheduled highway construction program, with 172 projects totaling nearly 137 miles and $191.5 million placed under contract.

A milestone in Virginia transportation occurred on June 3, 1976, when tolls were removed from three Tidewater bridges and the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. It was also on that day that the second Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, running parallel to the first, was opened. Though it had been a long time coming, many hailed the removal of the tolls and the opening of a second Hampton-Norfolk connector as the most important factor in Tidewater’s development.

In 1977, Virginia’s laws governing the allocation of state highway revenue were rewritten and greatly simplified by the General Assembly.

Over the years, the allocation formulas had become steadily more complex as additional programs were initiated and as new or increased sources of revenue were provided. One result was that an important premise — that citizens ought to be able to understand what government is doing, and why — was jeopardized where the spending of highway funds was concerned.

Recognizing that the public’s investment in highway facilities must be guarded, the legislation mandated that state funds be allocated first for the maintenance of all existing systems before any distribution for construction or other purposes.

Fifty percent of the construction funds was allocated for the primary system, 25 percent for the secondary system, and 25 percent for the urban system.

The new legislation reflected the growing influence of the state’s urban areas by simplifying the methods of distributing the funds within each system and making allocations to predominantly rural and predominantly urban districts more equitable.

The General Assembly action also reduced from 15 percent to 10 percent the municipalities’ share of urban construction costs.

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1401 E. Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

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A history of roads in Virginia: A broadened mission



I-195 in Richmond was constructed through heavy traffic on historic thoroughfares by using the right of way of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.

Economic conditions in the 1974-76 biennium slowed virtually all of the department’s operations as construction costs climbed 34 percent and revenue from state highwayuser tax sources fell  approximately $30 million below estimates. A seven-month moratorium was placed on most new construction, and the General Assembly asked the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council to study the impact of the rising costs and reduced revenue.

The 10-year road and street improvement program approved by the commission in 1971 set the cost of highway improvement needs at $5.2 billion by 1982. Although cost and income trends seemed to stabilize by the mid-1970s, attainment of the 10-year objectives still proved beyond reach by 1982.

It was also in the wake of the country’s fuel crisis and the dollar’s declining buying power that the Department of Highways would undergo major organizational changes. The changes resulted from action of the 1974 General Assembly, which expanded the duties of the department and enacted a new transportation policy for Virginia. To reflect this expansion, the department was renamed the Department of Highways and Transportation.

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia that the present and future welfare and mobility of the citizens of Virginia require a balanced transportation system, consisting of coordinated private and public facilities and services, provided and administered to assure adequate, safe, economical, and efficient transportation,” the assembly said.

Such a system, it continued, should “stimulate economic growth, provide access to employment, health, educational, recreation, and other activities for all… citizens, facilitate the flow of  commerce, encourage efficient allocation of human and economic resources, and preserve the inherent advantages of each mode, while utilizing inter-modal advantages to the fullest extent.”

The department’s job in the planning of air, rail, and waterway facilities was limited by the General Assembly to one of coordination. The authority of other state and local agencies and the private sector was kept intact.

Still, precisely what would be the state government’s role in the planning, development and administration of highways, rail transportation, air travel, urban mass transit, ports and waterways remained a question in the minds of department officials. And, how should state government’s resources be organized to fulfill the role?

The answer to these questions as they related to rail transportation came in 1973, after the bankruptcy of eight rail companies in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the country led the Congress to pass the Regional Rail Reorganization Act. Among other things, the act provided limited funds for rail financial assistance.

In order to qualify for the federal subsidies, states were required to develop rail plans providing an overall appraisal of their statewide rail systems and making detailed analyses of sections for which financial aid was to be requested. Development of this plan in the commonwealth was assigned to the Department of Highways and Transportation.

Virginia was fortunate that, with one exception, self-supporting rail service was provided by companies recognized as leaders in the railroad industry. The exception was the service formerly provided by the bankrupt Penn Central on the Eastern Shore and on a short segment in the Winchester area.

Since rail service in both of these areas was considered vital, the department submitted Virginia’s completed plan to the Federal Railroad Administration on Jan. 9, 1976, and it was approved less than six weeks later.

The role of public transportation in department operations enjoyed increased emphasis beginning in the late 1970s. Recognizing that well-planned transit service could reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and the costly consumption of fuel, the 1978 General Assembly established a public transportation division within the department.

The decision to create a new division expanded a transit assistance program that began in the department nearly a decade earlier, elevating it to a higher organizational level and reflecting the growing importance of mass transit operations, particularly in urban areas.

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

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A history of roads in Virginia: Surviving an oil embargo



The fuel crises of the 1970s were to have a lasting impact on highway revenues.

In 1973, several Middle East nations imposed an embargo on exports of oil, forcing major changes in the United States and other countries. At the beginning of the 1970s, Virginia’s transportation future seemed bright, but the oil embargo and the ensuing efforts to conserve fuel would have a debilitating effect on state transportation revenues for years to come.

Supplies of gasoline and other fuels plummeted, prices soared, and long lines were common at gas stations. The crisis became so severe that on Nov. 26, 1973, Gov. Linwood Holton declared a state of emergency as a result of the motor vehicle fuel shortage.

Federal and statewide conservation policies were implemented immediately. In Virginia, Gov. Holton ordered the speed limit on the interstate system reduced from 70 to 55 miles per hour. The action was followed shortly by Congress setting the same limit on a nationwide basis.

Over the winter, the problem continued to grow. On Feb. 18, 1974, Virginia’s newly inaugurated Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. took the fuel conservation measures a step further.

He implemented a statewide mandatory gasoline distribution plan, which already was known in several other states as the “odd-even plan.”

The plan related numbers on motor vehicle license plates to those on the calendar. A motorist whose license number ended in an odd digit could buy gasoline only on odd-numbered calendar days. Those whose licenses ended in even numbers could buy gasoline only on even-numbered days.

The new plan, and the public’s support of fuel conservation efforts, went far toward alleviating the problem. Generally, long waiting lines at gasoline stations disappeared, but gas prices increased substantially. The fuel shortage was eased further by the lifting of the Mideast oil embargo in March 1974.

By April, the situation had improved sufficiently for Gov. Godwin to suspend the odd-even restrictions. But he cautioned that fuel supplies were expected to remain limited and that citizens should continue voluntarily to practice conservation measures. Moreover, he said, the speed limit would remain at a maximum 55 miles an hour.

The crisis had long-term, adverse effects aside from personal inconvenience. Reductions in gasoline use led to reductions in the state’s income from the motor fuel tax, the largest single source of revenue for highway construction and maintenance. Only two years earlier, in 1972, the General Assembly had increased the gasoline tax from seven to nine cents a gallon to help finance a new 10-year plan for road and street improvement and for expanded state aid to urban mass transit. Suddenly, revenue was falling below anticipated levels, and the commission forecast a shortfall of approximately $22 million for the 1974-75 fiscal year.

With petroleum being a major ingredient in roadway asphalt, construction costs also rose.

The revenue reductions, combined with sharply rising costs due to rapid inflation, made it clear that Virginia’s highway budget wouldn’t stretch as far as once hoped, and the commission began a reassessment of the 10-year plan. Also, federal authorities warned that the energy crisis “could critically curtail the federal state highway program,” from which came 90 percent of interstate highway construction funds.

The Department of Highways, like most agencies, initiated fuel conservation measures within its own organization. Employees were encouraged to join car pools for trips to work and were required to join such pools for business trips. It was decided to let roadside grass grow to 15 inches instead of 10 inches before mowing and to adjust snow-removal standards by eliminating plowing in subdivisions until snow was at least six inches deep.

Motor oil was saved for reuse in diesel engines and oil-fired furnaces. Oil changes in state vehicles were made every 4,000 miles instead of every 3,000 miles. An increased emphasis was placed on the use of asphalt that had low petroleum content and that required little heating before use.

But while the energy crisis produced changes in operations, and sometimes resulted in inconveniences, it also pointed the way to improved traffic safety. During the critical months of the fuel crisis in Virginia, traffic on the state’s major highways decreased for the first time since World War II. The reduced speed limits and travel were accompanied by long-sought reductions in  accidents.

In Virginia during the period between December 1973 and April 1974, 52 persons were killed in traffic accidents on the 2,000 miles of highways with reduced speed limits; the toll had been double on the same roads in the corresponding period the year before. In the first six months of 1974, Virginia’s total traffic death toll on all of its highways stood at 458, down sharply from 608 in the  same period of 1973.

There was another issue that emerged in the 1970s. It was not as immediately dramatic as the energy crisis, but it was one that would have a major effect on the department — concern about the environmental impact of highways.

The broadened public concern for environmental protection was accepted by department engineers as an indication of the public’s willingness to pay the cost
required for higher levels of preservation and conservation.

Opposition to the construction of Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia prompted department officials to examine even more closely the environmental impact highways would have in predominantly urban areas. On April 4, 1972, the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond barred construction of the interstate through Arlington County until an environmental impact statement was completed.

When the final segment of I-66 between the Capital Beltway and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge was opened on Dec. 22, 1982, the highway was vastly different from the one proposed 26 years earlier. The newly opened highway had four lanes instead of the eight originally planned, and it was restricted to car pools, buses, and Dulles International Airport traffic during morning and  evening rush hours.

As a result of the department’s heightened awareness of environmental issues, highway construction plans were scrutinized repeatedly for environmental impacts, particularly in urban areas. Among other efforts, the department began to include provisions for noise walls and hiking and biking trails. In addition, when possible, plans were altered to avoid the destruction of historical and cultural resources.

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

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How age affects your ability to drive and what you can do about it



Did you know that older adults are more likely to receive tickets and get into accidents than other drivers? This is because for some, decreased vision, hearing impairments, slower reflexes and other medical issues can get in the way of driving safely.

Stay on top of health concerns
Age doesn’t automatically make someone an unsafe driver. Nevertheless, some individuals may not recognize that their driving capabilities have diminished. Here’s what you can do to ensure that you’re able to keep driving safely.

• Get your vision and hearing checked yearly, and make sure corrective devices like glasses and hearing aids are kept up to date.

• Exercise regularly in order to keep your body nimble and able to perform necessary driving movements like shoulder checks and moving your foot from one pedal to the other.

• Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any medications you’re taking and whether they can impair driving.

Amend your driving habits
If driving is starting to make you nervous, altering your habits may be what you need to regain your confidence behind the wheel. Consider switching from a manual car to an automatic for ease of driving. It may also be a good idea to stay off the road at night and in bad weather. To avoid getting lost, use a GPS or plan your route before leaving the house.

Know when to stop driving
If you’ve been in an increasing number of accidents or near accidents, observed dents in your car that you can’t explain or noticed other drivers frequently honking at you, it may be time to take a refresher course in driving. Alternatively, it may be the right moment to give up your car entirely.

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A history of roads in Virginia: Changing concepts



In the heavily populated suburbs of Northern Virginia, special lanes of I-95 (now I-395) were reserved
for express buses in 1969.

By the 1970s, Virginia was a rapidly urbanizing state. Its population had grown to more than 4.6 million, with two-thirds living in cities, towns, and suburbs.

Motor vehicle registration had risen to more than 2.5 million. Between 1960 and 1970, travel on the state’s highway system had increased more than 65 percent, and on an average weekday, motorists drove 75 million miles on Virginia’s highways and streets. The two-car family had become commonplace, and driving was described as the nation’s leading form of outdoor recreation.

Years before, agriculture had begun its decline as the principal  foundation of the state’s economy, although it remained of major importance. New and expanding industries occupied an increasingly vital role in the economic base.

In a December 1971 report to the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council, the General Assembly’s continuing study arm, the Highway Commission said that “much remains to be done in order to provide Virginians with what truly may be considered an adequate, statewide transportation system.”

The council continued, “In every county, city, and town, there are substandard facilities. Throughout Virginia, there remains thousands of miles of roads and hundreds of bridges constructed more than 40 years ago. They were satisfactory for the uses they were built to serve; they are far from satisfactory for the demands of the 1970s, and for those of the years beyond,” the commission said.

Commissioner Fugate, writing in the April 1970 issue of the Eno Foundation’s Traffic Quarterly, had discussed the changing highway concepts involved in solving such a problem:

“We should not be particularly surprised that transportation planning requirements differ from those of even a decade ago,” he wrote. “For in many respects the nation’s people differ — there are far more of them, they tend in growing numbers to congregate in and around the cities, they tend to be more affluent; and they have a new concern for all aspects of the environment in which they live. Thus, it is no longer sufficient to examine highway proposals solely from such standpoints as traffic service, economics, and engineering feasibility. An entirely new range of considerations has developed, and must be accepted by those responsible for the highway program.

“Such matters as the social impact of highways, environmental enhancement, and pollution are becoming integral elements in the highway planning process. Similarly, in urban regions, attention must be focused more extensively on utilizing the highway as an artery for mass transportation, and on fresh concepts concerned more with moving people than with moving vehicles. Any notions of a comfortable philosophy based on the belief that every problem has a formula for solution and that every decision can be made in conformity with established policy must be forsaken, if indeed they still exist,” the commissioner wrote. “We must greatly broaden our concepts of the highway’s role in an increasingly urban society.”

In the heavily populated Northern Virginia suburbs of the District of Columbia, special lanes of Interstate 95, the old Shirley Highway, were reserved for express buses. Commuters were encouraged to leave their cars behind and use the bus to reduce congestion. It represented the nation’s first experience with setting aside lanes of interstate highway for buses, and its results were impressive. In barely more than three years, more commuters were riding buses than were driving their personal cars during the morning rush hours.

The success of the Shirley “busway,” coupled with increased traffic congestion, led highway officials to allow private vehicles to use the reserved travel lanes as long as they were carrying four or more passengers.

In Southwest Virginia, the challenges were different from those in the highly urbanized regions of the state. In July 1972, hundreds gathered to observe the opening of the Big Walker Mountain Tunnel on Interstate 77. The tunnel, carved through the Appalachian range in Bland County, was heralded as the beginning of a new and prosperous era for the citizens of Southwest Virginia.

Two and a half years later, on Dec. 20, 1974, a second mountain tunnel was completed. The East River Mountain Tunnel, which routes 1-77 traffic through the mountain between Bland County, Virginia, and Mercer County, West Virginia, was built cooperatively by the two states.

Increasingly, the planning function of highway administrators and engineers was changing vastly as society itself sought to adjust to the needs and desires of the expanding, more urbanized population.

More and more, highway planning was related to total community goals. The days of muddy roads, of inadequate technology and equipment, and of neglected maintenance had passed. A modern highway system permitted improved mobility and traffic safety. But there were new challenges to replace the old ones, including those brought about by events happening halfway across the world.

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1401 E. Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

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A history of roads in Virginia: A new study, a new network



Two additional lanes are constructed parallel with the lanes of Route 460 in Giles County in 1969 to  create a divided arterial highway.

It soon became evident, however, that the interstate routes alone would not adequately serve the burgeoning population and the increasing desire for mobility by Virginians in the second half of the 20th century. The spreading suburban growth that marked Virginia and other states in the years after World War II was induced in large part by the flexible mobility permitted by the family auto. Suburban housing development was followed by suburban shopping centers and office buildings. It all placed new demands on the state’s roads and streets. The 20-year improvement plan that had been implemented by the commission in the immediate post-war years had to be revised and updated frequently to keep pace with changing needs and growth patterns.

In 1962, the General Assembly established a new study commission to examine and evaluate highway needs, revenue, fund distribution procedures, and the organization of the Department of Highways. It consisted of one member from each of the eight construction districts and two citizens at large. The study commission members were appointed by Gov. Albertis S. Harrison Jr., in May 1962, with Sen. William F. Stone of Martinsville, an experienced legislator who had been a chief patron of the act calling for the study, chosen as chairman.

For more than a year, the study commission went about its assignment, reviewing nearly every aspect of the highway program. The commission itself probably was the most important highway study group since the 1916 committee that recommended the establishment of the first state highway system.

The Stone commission submitted its report to the governor and the General Assembly in December 1963, in time for its recommendations to be considered at the legislative session beginning the following month. Among its points: “One of the prime factors in inducing business management to select a state for expansion or a new location is a good highway system, which not only is needed for transportation of goods and raw materials but enables employees to be drawn from a wide radius. Some other states have moved ahead of Virginia in expanding their highway systems. We cannot afford to be left behind.”

The study commission also described the motor vehicle as “an essential and integral part of our everyday life. Its impact upon our economy and way of life has reached dimensions which have exceeded all forecasts.”

In an effort to keep up, the commission said, a new arterial network should be developed to supplement the interstate system.

Douglas B. Fugate, who joined the department shortly after graduating from VMI with a degree in civil engineering in 1927, was serving as assistant chief engineer at the time and in 1964, was appointed commissioner by Gov. Harrison. Fugate proposed the arterial network concept to the study commission and thus became chief architect of the network.

“The arterial road program, when completed, will in conjunction with the interstate system connect every city within the commonwealth of 5,000 or more and nearly every town having a population of 3,500 to 5,000. When completed, there will be an arterial route or interstate route within a 40-mile radius of every town in Virginia,” the study commission said.

Development of the network was authorized by the 1964 General Assembly, which also provided additional revenue through increases in the state’s motor vehicle registration and operator’s license fees. As approved, it totaled more than 1,700 miles and was to be developed chiefly by building new two-lane roadways parallel to existing two-lane primary routes to create four-lane, divided facilities. More than 70 bypasses of cities and towns were to be constructed, to free local streets for local traffic, and many of the bypasses would be constructed virtually to interstate standards.

The arterial network was half-finished within seven years after it was begun. In some quarters, the network was described as a “model for the nation because of the orderly way in which it ensured up-grading of older primary roads while the interstate system development was still under way.”

In the mid-1950s, when the interstate program was beginning, Virginia had about 300 miles of multi-lane divided highways. With interstate and arterial completion, it later would have slightly more than 3,000 miles of such roads.

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Richmond, VA 23219

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