HD65 - Study to Evaluate the Use of Automatic Vehicle Identification Systems and the Snow Removal Procedures on Powhite Parkway, Powhite Parkway Extension and Downtown Expressway

Executive Summary:
The 1996 General Assembly, under House Joint Resolution 51, HJR-51 (see Appendix A), directed the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA) to evaluate the use of automatic vehicle identification systems and the snow removal procedures on the Powhite Parkway, Powhite Parkway Extension (Route 76), and Downtown Expressway (Route 195). Though the Downtown Expressway and Powhite Parkway are not part of the State's highway system and are owned and operated as a toll facility by the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA), VDOT provides routine maintenance services for all three roadways.


ETC stands for electronic toll collection system (also sometimes referred to as automatic vehicle identification, AVI). It is designed so that participants submit a one-time, refundable deposit to establish a toll account. In turn, the participant receives a "transponder," a device the size of a credit card, to place in his/her vehicle. The transponder stores account information. The computer equipment in the toll plaza "reads" the information from each vehicle's transponder as the vehicle passes through the toll plaza without coming to a full stop. Since tolls are automatically debited from the prepaid account balances, the motorist no longer needs to use cash or tokens to pay for tolls. Since vehicles are allowed to pass through toll plazas without stopping, ETC will help reduce traffic back-ups and reduce air pollution. VDOT has already installed an ETC system, known as the Virginia Fastoll, at Dulles Toll Road and the Coleman Bridge (64,000 transponders). The Dulles Greenway also uses the Fastoll system.

VDOT and RMA employed consultants to identify the market demand, examine the current operational systems, and define the needs for an electronic toll collection system for use on the Powhite Parkway, Downtown Expressway, and the Powhite Parkway Extension. The consultants surveyed toll users and developed a task document (see Appendix B), which identifies a proposed schedule for the implementation of such a system and defines critical goals and assessment activities needed for a successful deployment of the system on each facility. As part of the tasks necessary for successful deployment, VDOT and RMA have outlined an interagency agreement defining potential approaches and concepts in the project. Various issues related to a dual-agency system have been identified and require resolution. Once the interagency agreement has been accepted and approved by all parties, VDOT and RMA plan to have the solicitation for bids distributed by January 1997, with installation of an operating system in December 1997.


In January, 1996, the Richmond area received approximately 20 inches of snow followed by subfreezing temperatures. This event has been labeled by the media as the "Blizzard of '96." Snow storms such as this one are very rare and accumulations of this magnitude have occurred only six times in the past 30 years. Subfreezing temperatures minimize the effectiveness of the chemicals which made snow removal even more difficult. In addition to this unusual weather, VDOT had experienced an 11% reduction in employees as a result of the 1995 Workforce Transition Act (WTA). Many of the employees who were experienced with snow removal on these facilities retired.

At the end of each major snow event, VDOT's management at both the Sandston and Chesterfield Residencies evaluate VDOT's snow removal operations. As a result, VDOT's management saw opportunities for improvements and adjusted several equipment and crew assignments to compensate for the differences in training and experience. Crew members also received additional instruction in route assignments and techniques for efficient snow removal. Furthermore, in the future, VDOT will not wait for the snow to stop falling and will start clearing the toll facilities as soon as equipment is available.