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A history of roads in Virginia: The interstate system



Interstate construction in 1964 progresses along the I-81 corridor.

In 1923, a Delaware business executive named T. Coleman DuPont had built a three mile stretch of divided highway with his personal funds and had given it to the state of Delaware. Road historians generally regard that segment of road as representing the origin of the concept of the superhighway. But Depression, war and catching up on other basic needs had slowed the spread of the concept.

Before his death in 1941, Henry Shirley had seen the need for such a facility in the rapidly urbanizing Northern Virginia suburbs of the District of Columbia. Active planning got under way in the mid-1940s, and the road was built in the late ‘40s and early ’50s. It was Virginia’s first superhighway, and the commission named it for Shirley.

Development of a nationwide system of such highways was first seriously considered in 1938, when Congress asked the federal highway agency, by then called the Bureau of Public Roads, to study the feasibility of a toll-financed system of three east-west and three north-south superhighways. The study report encouraged the concept of a superhighway system, but said that it would be far from self-supporting if built on a toll-road basis. It proposed, instead, a network of toll-free roads for which the federal government would pay more than the normal 50 percent federal-aid rate.

The idea was studied further, and in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944, Congress called for the designation of a national system of interstate highways that was “so located as to connect by routes, as direct as practicable, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the national defense, and to connect at suitable border points with routes of continental importance.”

It was not until the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 that sufficient funding was provided for development of the system to begin in earnest. This act created the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Eventually, the system was to total 42,700 miles. It would represent little more than 1 percent of the nation’s total road and street mileage, but it would carry 23 percent of the traffic. It was to be financed with 90 percent federal and 10 percent state funds.

Virginia’s share was more than 1,070 miles (eventually 1,118 miles), and the Highway Commission assessed what development of the interstate system would mean to Virginia:

“Construction of this modern road network… involves many problems and radical changes in thought. Under the new program, interstate highways will be insulated from marginal traffic generated by motels, service stations, other types of businesses, and dwellings. Traffic entering and leaving these highways will do so at designated points. Cross movements of traffic, with which we are so familiar, will be eliminated.”

“The benefits of controlled-access construction are numerous. A modern controlled access road transforms, in many ways, the area through which it passes. Land values increase. This type of road promotes safety, saves travel time, reduces the strain on drivers, and aids the economic development of the area. Controlled-access standards also protect the state’s investment in its highways,” the commission observed, even before the first mile of the interstate system had been built.

The commission members recognized, as well, the size of the job before them. “We are now embarked on the most accelerated road program in the state’s history. Unprecedented sums of money will be spent… to provide Virginia with modern adequate highways. Present traffic patterns will be changed, new areas will be opened for business, and residential and recreational development. The future will present a challenge greater than any we have faced in our highway development. What we accomplish will depend largely on public understanding, acceptance, and support.” An extensive series of public hearings was held around the state to discuss plans for interstate system projects with citizens and local governing officials.

The first interstate system hearing in Virginia was held by the Department of Highways on Feb. 20, 1957. It concerned a 10-mile segment of Interstate 95 south of Petersburg. Within the next four months, 10 more hearings were conducted on interstate projects, and construction began on the state’s first project on the new system — the six-mile Interstate 95 bypass of Emporia. Early emphasis was on the 1-95 facility because it was to parallel U.S. Route 1, which by the mid-1950s had become the most heavily traveled through road in Virginia and one of the nation’s busiest highways.

The Emporia bypass also was the first interstate project to be completed in the commonwealth. It was opened to traffic Sept. 8, 1959. The first major interstate route to be completed fully was Interstate 495, the Virginia portion of a beltway circling the District of Columbia, with its final section being opened on April 2, 1964.

By the early 1970s, the interstate system was about 75 percent finished, and it was fulfilling to a large degree the expectations expressed by the commission at the outset of the program. Accident rates on the new superhighways were only about onehalf the rates on the older conventional roads; travel time was reduced an hour or more on cross-state auto trips; the new roads stimulated extensive commercial, industrial, and residential growth; and this, in turn, provided broader tax bases for local governments.

A new generation of Virginians, growing up with the interstate system, could hardly remember what travel was like without it.

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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