By Greg Glassner
Transportation and roads have been much in the news these days.
The governor and state legislature spent a great deal of time trying to find a way to fund Virginia’s transportation needs in the future. They talked about tolls, eliminating the gas tax while increasing the sales tax, and – what I consider the most bizarre plan yet – penalizing people who drive fuel-efficient cars.
I assume they settled on something. I no longer follow the news as avidly as I once did, so I will not pretend to understand the solution. (I’m not confident the governor or legislators do either.)
Meanwhile, the Hanover County Supervisors did away with proffers on new home construction, proffers originally put in place to defray the costs of roads and schools to serve the new residents of those new homes. Then they did an about-face and imposed new proffers, albeit lower ones that apply only to roads. (It was a classic case of “What were we thinking?”)
Since I retired from the H-P, I have done a bit of traveling up and down the East Coast and conducted my own unscientific, highly subjective analysis of our transportation system.
I made a Christmas trip to Albany, N.Y. that allowed me to sample our road system in a variety of winter weather conditions. On the way back, I attempted to skirt the edge of a winter storm, riding its crest like a surfer on a big wave.
I elected to take the longer, less fuel-efficient of several available routes, despite the threat of bad weather, simply because I have learned to avoid Washington, D.C., northern New Jersey and New York City at all costs. Gridlock in any of these three metropolitan areas can add several hours to the journey.
On the way back, the blizzard snagged me north of Harrisburg, Pa., I tried to improvise, by taking a series of two- and four-lane roads through southern Pennsylvania and Maryland. I discovered that a few inches of snow can cause havoc on these roads as well, especially when people flee work early. Besides, so many of these alternate routes are littered with shopping malls and stop lights. I would have been better off crawling along on the Interstate.
In January, I flew to and from Orlando from Richmond, relying on rental cars to take in the Daytona 24 Hour race and several sightseeing trips.
In March, I made essentially the same trip driving one of my own cars. I took in the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, the 12 Hours of Sebring Race and the private Collier Museum in Naples.
On the way back I expected to allow two days for the 680-mile journey because I started on a Sunday and Bike Week in Daytona had just ended. I surprised myself by making the trip in exactly 12 hours, averaging nearly 67 miles per hour, including meals on the fly and gas and restroom stops.
In fact the only traffic snarl I encountered was in the all-too familiar I-95/I-295 “funnel” between the Sliding Hill Road and Route 54 interchanges. I got off I-95 at the first opportunity and completed my journey using U.S. 1.
In the past, I have enjoyed riding the rails to New England and hope to sample that alternative in the future.
I concluded from all of this that our Interstate highway system actually functions pretty well as a people mover as long as we don’t throw bad weather, traffic accidents, the time of the day or of the week, and holiday traffic overload into the equation. When this happens, even extra vehicle lanes may not remedy the situation.
In many cases, parallel routes such as U.S. 1 and 17 can come in handy, as long as we haven’t cluttered up sections of these highways with shopping centers and traffic lights.
During the recent Easter weekend, I almost made the mistake of getting on I-95 at Parham Road. Spotting the traffic snarl, I exited at the same cloverleaf I had entered and took U.S. 1, instead. Unfortunately, 1,000 or so northbound motorists also had the same idea, creating heavier than usual traffic though Ashland.
At times like those, there is no good transportation solution. You are better off staying home.