Richmond VA:Many toll roads

April 18, 1997

Richmond VA:Many toll roads

Originally published in issue 14 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Apr 1997.



Facilities:Powhite Parkway VA-76 Downtown Expressway VA-195 VA-288


Locations:Richmond VA


Richmond Virginia is an very American city, an extraordinary mix of degradation and progress, ugliness and beauty, history both splendid and squalid. Recently there on a glorious spring Sunday, I stumbled on a little white wooden church (St Johns) on a high point in eastern Richmond that 222 years ago was the largest hall in town and the setting for Patrick Henry’s magnificent call to arms (known for the peroration “Is life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death”) a speech that is often credited with being the inspirational push toward war with Britain and the ending of colonial rule. Located on the fall line of the James River where fresh drinking water and hydro power for milling were readily available and at the last tidal anchorage for ocean going ships, set in countryside with vast areas of rich cultivable soils, it became a world center for tobacco trade and cigarette production. Roads and rail lines come in to the center of Richmond from all directions, radials on which are superimposed a set of rings. For a metro area of less than a million it has an excellent road system, in part because of the determination of city leaders to brook no obstruction and in part because of a long history of pragmatically using tolls when tax money was not available (and of removing tolls when they got too hot politically.)

Awful R-P pike: I-95 the 6-lane running north-south elevated through the middle of the city was built 1953-1958 with loans secured by tolls, and is labelled to this day the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike. The tolls were collected at 3 mainline barriers until the tolls were dropped in 1992. The highway carries an average 100k v/d and is already heavily congested in rush hours, and very difficult and expensive to expand. Its 30m high steel I-beam ramps east of the downtown are already within feet of the edge of a grand high pitched red terra cotta roof of a nice old railroad terminal building — a striking example of a kind of esthetic insensitivity that has got highway engineers their ‘redneck’ reputation and aroused against them and their works so much hostility among the

articulate classes!

Inner city box: The main commercial district is ‘boxed’ on four sides with high standard urban motorways with a plentiful spaghetti of local connections. I-64 that spans the state east-west runs along the northern CBD fringe, jointly with I-95 for several miles. To the northwest of the city an extraordinarily complex H-interchange is nicely depressed in a heavily landscaped area and produces a westside spur I-195 which for a distance straddles a freight rail track. To the immediate south and south-west of the city are 3 pikes, the Downtown Expressway VA-195 (open 76, 4km long, 6-ln, 45k v/d) and Powhite Parkway (VA-76) run by the city’s Richmond Metropolitan Authority (open 73, 5.5km, 4/6-ln, 80k v/d) and the Powhite Parkway Extension built in the late 80s by the Virginia DoT (open 88, 17km, 4-ln, 40k v/d) — all 3 very attractive, wellrun toll facilities. An attendant told me they have virtually no enforcement problems and no need for cameras though the plazas are unmanned much of the time. A splendidly lavish 6-lane freeway I-295 hangs in a “?” shape forming a “half beltway”, a northern and eastern bypass around two sides of the metro area relieving pressure on the through-town I-95, and opening to industrial development large tracts to the east around the airport and the small port. At c10km and 20km radius from the CBD in the southwest quadrant are 2 mwy-standard ring roads VA-150 (Chippenham Pkwy) and VA-288.

New Toll projects: Toll projects are proposed to help fill 2 missing links in the rings to the west (James River Parkway, VA-288) and to the southeast (Pocahontas Parkway I-895) — see p10. Both involve expensive spans over the James River. The western project was once furthest advanced. James River Parkway Assoc a joint venture of Brown & Root and Dewberry & Davis in Nov 95 filed a proposal with the state for an estd-$320m toll road of 28km along a VDoT corridor between I-64 near the Goochland and Henrico county lines south over the James River to the existing northern end of VA-288 where it has an interchange with the end of the Powhite Pkwy. But the financial keystone of the VA-288 proposal was the planned construction of a $3b computer chip factory by Motorola. With that large factory on hold the toll road project is apparently on hold too, officials from both companies saying they are currently in talks about where they go. Meanwhile VDoT is using state funds to construct parts of the road as single carriageway 2-laners, half the cross-section of the planned toll road, and without any funds for the bridge across the James River. Steven Pearson a local attorney who works toll roads issues says the VA-288 project is a matter “not of if but when” and that Motorola has a firm commitment to the area. (Contact Jim Atwell VDoT 804 786 5128, Jim McLauchlin B&R 713 676 4298, Steven Pearson 804 344 3426)

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