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A history of roads in Virginia: Surviving an oil embargo

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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
Office of Public Affairs
1401 E. Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
VirginiaDOT.org

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7 things to inspect on your car this summer

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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

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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?

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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?

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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.

Findings
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.

Recommendations
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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The experience of driving an EV

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Electric vehicles (EVs) are reliable, economical, and eco-friendly. But what’s it like to drive one? Here’s what you should know.

In-town driving
EVs are well suited to the stop-and-go nature of city driving. Thanks to the regenerative braking system in most models, the kinetic energy that’s lost every time you apply the brakes is recovered and used to power the motor. This allows you to drive longer on a single charge.

Since an EV’s motor doesn’t idle, you won’t waste any power if you get stuck in traffic. And when congested roads do clear, the instant torque of an electric car allows you to accelerate with ease.

Lastly, an increasing number of municipalities offer reserved or free parking for electric vehicles.

Highway driving
Electric cars must meet the same safety standards as conventional vehicles, so you can cruise down the highway without worry. Additionally, since the battery pack is usually installed in the floor, most models have a low center of gravity which allows for better handling.

Owning an EV can also speed up your commute since many areas allow you to use carpool lanes if you’re driving an electric car. You’ll also likely appreciate the quieter ride as they make considerably less noise than gas-powered cars. And if you need to use a toll road or take a ferry, many are cheaper or free for electric cars.

Finally, since EVs have fewer parts than vehicles that run on fuel, they don’t require much in the way of maintenance and repairs. You’ll spend more time on the road and less at the garage.

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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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