|Richmond Interstates and Expressways|
From 1946 onward, there was much local discussion and debate about building a modern system of urban and metropolitan freeways and bridges for the Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area. This article traces the history of the development of the system, mostly focusing on theCity of Richmond, but also including regional highways.
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Area Expressway and Highway Planning
Location of Interstate 64
Early Expressway Studies
Engineering Studies for RMA Expressways
City Expressway System Final Planning
City Expressway System Construction Starts
Downtown Expressway Clears Legal Hurdles
Construction of Downtown Expressway
RMA Tolls and Traffic
1968 Major Thoroughfare Plan
Post-Implementation Review of RMA Expressways
Richmond Metropolitan Area Expressway and Highway Planning
The official beginning of the planning for limited access highways in the Richmond metropolitan area was the engineering report Report on Express Highways, Through and Between the Cities of Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia which evaluated various corridors for new highways, and this report was completed and published in 1946. The regional planners from then until the 1970s and later typically used the word 'expressway' to describe these highways. The usage of 'expressway' in their reports, in the local newspaper articles reporting on the system's progress, and in my article here, means a divided highway with 4 or more lanes, with full control of access, and full grade separation and access only at interchanges. The proper technical term that is used by engineers and other transportation professionals is the term "freeway", whose root was derived from meaning "freedom from at-grade crossings and freedom from adjacent property driveway access"; it doesn't derive from whether or not tolls are charged on the highway. So a tollroad like the Downtown Expressway is correctly identified as a 'freeway'. Since 'expressway' is used locally and in the historical media references in most instances, I most commonly will refer to these highways as 'expressways' in this article.
This was a prominent local issue from the end of World War II onward as the post-war boom in the economy and in traffic led to much discussion about building a modern system of new highways for the Richmond metropolitan area, to adequately handle the high and increasing traffic demands. The city and metropolitan area sits astride the US-1 and US-301 highways, the main north-south interstate highways for the Eastern Seaboard prior to the building of Interstate Route I-95. The city and metropolitan area is also bisected by the James River, a shallow rocky river over 1/2-mile wide west of the downtown, becoming a deep-water ship-capable river from the downtown eastward. The Shockoe Valley forms a deep valley just east of the downtown. The various transportation barriers and the heavy city and regional traffic combined with the need to handle heavy north-south interstate traffic, by 1945 brought about the need for the development of a modern system of expressways, bridges and thoroughfares.
The Richmond and Petersburg areas became industrial and manufacturing centers in the early years of the United States, and in the antebellum period (pre-Civil War period) this expanded and the two cities became major transportation hubs when major railroads (Chesapeake and Ohio, Norfolk and Western, and Atlantic Coast Line) were built through the area. Richmond is also the state capital and is in the central region of the state, so in addition to its own industry, commercial activities, tourism, and state government offices, it is a natural hub for transportation, which includes a major commercial jet airport,Richmond International Airport (RIC), which is in Henrico County east of Richmond; and a major port, the Richmond Marine Terminal, which is on the James River in South Richmond. The Richmond-Petersburg metropolitan area has just reached one million population, in the 2000 census.
I-95 was completed north-south through the Richmond area in July 1958 as the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (RPT). I-64 was completed east-west through the Richmond area in 1968. I-95 parallels US-1/US-301, and I-64 parallels US-60 east of the downtown, and I-64 parallels US-250 northwest of the downtown. I-64 and I-95 overlap and share the same route for 4 miles in north Richmond.
The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was established by the U.S. Congress with the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, with 41,000 miles of routes to be built nationwide, and 1,500 miles of mostly metropolitan sections was added to the system in 1968. I-95, I-64 and I-295 were among those approved in the 1956 Interstate system. For history of the Interstate Highway System, seeFederal-Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating The Interstate System by Richard F. Weingroff (U.S. Department of Transportation historian), 1996.
I-95 has 6 lanes throughout the Richmond area; it was built with 6 lanes from the Maury Street interchange northward, and with 4 lanes southward of there; and the 22-mile-long section from Maury Street to the I-85 interchange in Petersburg was widened to 6 lanes from 1974 to 1978.
The Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike Authority was established in 1955 to build the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike. The Authority was a small state agency created by the General Assembly, to administer (design, finance, acquire right-of-way, construct, operate, collect tolls, and maintain) the Turnpike. The Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (RPT) cost $76.7 million (funded with proceeds from toll revenue bonds sold by the Commonwealth of Virginia) to build, and it ran for 34.7 miles from US-1 in Dinwiddie County to US-301 in Henrico County (from today's I-85 Exit 63 to I-95 Exit 82), it opened in its entirety on July 1, 1958; and soon after opening, the RPT was designated with the I-85 and I-95 designations, even though no federal aid was used to build the RPT, and it became part of the Interstate system.
The original bond issue was retired in January 1975, but another $103 million of toll revenue bonds was issued in December 1973 to pay for the 22 miles of 6-lane widening from Maury Street in South Richmond to the I-95/I-85 interchange in Petersburg, plus other improvements to the Turnpike, including a new ramp at the Broad Street interchange in downtown Richmond, a complete reconstruction of the VA-150 Chippenham Parkway interchange, improvements to the VA-10 interchange, and a complete reconstruction of the Washington Street interchange and I-95/I-85 interchange in Petersburg, and reconstruction of the I-95 highway mainline in Petersburg to lessen several curves. This new interchange complex between I-95 and Washington Street, Wythe Street and I-85 in Petersburg, was called the "Little Mixing Bowl" by the highway designers and planners.
The 1973 General Assembly passed legislation to dissolve the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike Authority and transfers its duties, powers and obligations to the Virginia State Highway Commission (the predecessor of the current Commonwealth Transportation Board), so the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation (today's VDOT) took over administration of the RPT in 1973. Source: "Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike Suffers Widening Pains", Virginia Road Builder magazine, October 1976.
My articleRichmond-Petersburg Turnpike (I-95/I-85) and I-295 has more history about the Turnpike and the I-295 bypass.
Local automobile commuters could buy booklets of toll tickets that cost about one cent per mile of travel, in other words, 32 cents to travel the whole 34.7-mile-long turnpike, or 8 cents per mainline toll plaza. Especially in the later years, that was seen as rather inexpensive as the general rate of consumer price inflation increased. The full (non-commuter) rate was 25 cents per mainline toll plaza, increased to 50 cents in March 1989.
The $103 million of 1973-issued toll revenue bonds used to pay for the 6-lane widening projects were paid off and retired in 1985. The last 7 years (1985-1992) of toll revenue (mostly Northerner and Floridian toll revenue since the locals could buy heavily discounted commuter tickets) was used to build 5 local road projects. These projects were 6.5 miles of the VA-288 beltway between VA-10 and US-1/US-301 in Chesterfield County, 3.5 miles of 2-lane parallel roadway (dualization) for the VA-144 Temple Avenue Extension from Conduit Road in the City of Colonial Heights to VA-36 near the City of Hopewell, 0.6-mile of the mostly 4-lane Leigh Street Extension from near the Department of Motor Vehicles central office to VA-161 Boulevard in the City of Richmond, 0.7-mile of 4-lane widening and reconstruction of Belt Boulevard in the City of Richmond between VA-10 and Terminal Avenue, and the 4.4-mile-long 4-lane limited access VA-150 Parham-Chippenham Connector between 1/2 mile south of Forest Hill Avenue in the City of Richmond and 1/2 mile north of River Road in Henrico County. Legislation of the General Assembly in 1983 (Senate Bill 304) provided for this toll extension and usage of the toll revenues for these local road projects. These five local road projects were all completed by 1991. Due to a later shortfall of funding to complete the projects, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) authorized the March 1989 toll increase to cover the shortfall.
The Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike's I-85 portion become toll-free in 1986, when Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funds were used to finance most of the project for the new interchange between Squirrel Level Road and I-85 (completed in 1987) in the City of Petersburg; and the mainline Dinwiddie County Toll Plaza near US-1 west of Petersburg was removed then. The 1989 CTB toll increase decision also provided for the removal of the I-95 Washington Street toll plaza in Petersburg, thereby making toll-free the I-95 portion of the Turnpike south of the Ivey Avenue interchange (completed in 1987, built to help support the Southpark Mall that was built then) in the City of Colonial Heights; this interchange is less than a mile south of the VA-144 Temple Avenue interchange. Actually Ivey Avenue was not connected to the interchange, and the connecting road into the mall was later named Southpark Boulevard. The 1989 CTB toll increase decision also provided for the removal of the ramp toll plazas in the City of Richmond at the I-95/I-64/I-195 Bryan Park interchange and at VA-161 Boulevard, thereby making toll-free the I-95 portion of the Turnpike north of Boulevard.
So the mainline Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike toll plazas were ---
Dinwiddie County Toll Plaza, on I-85, 1/2 mile east of US-1
Washington Street Toll Plaza, actually a mainline exit/entrance toll plaza for I-95 where it branched off of the RPT, located between the I-85/I-95 junction and US-301 Crater Road in the City of Petersburg
Colonial Heights Toll Plaza, which was on I-95 in the City of Colonial Heights in the southern part of the VA-144 Temple Avenue interchange
Falling Creek Toll Plaza, which was on I-95 in the southern part of the VA-150 interchange in Chesterfield County
Belvidere Toll Plaza, which was on I-95 about 1/2 mile north of US-1/US-301 Chamberlayne Avenue in the City of Richmond
The I-95 Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike became toll-free on July 1, 1992, and the 3 mainline toll plazas (each 10-12 lanes wide) were demolished, underground foundations removed, unneeded pavement removed, and approach pavement removed and replaced. VDOT's projects cost a total of $2.5 million and did everything necessary to completely convert each toll plaza section to a full freeway design. A collection of ramp toll plazas were removed too. The Turnpike Authority administration building at the VA-10 interchange near Chester remained in place, but it was unoccupied after the toll removal until it was completely renovated in 1994 to be used as a major VDOT training center, which is what it is currently used for in 2001.
Location of Interstate 64
There was a dispute about the location of I-64 between the cities Richmond and Clifton Forge, and this also affected its location through the City of Richmond. The 1963 study Western Expressway and Belt Line River Crossing mentions in its "General" section in the front part of the document, that this study began in the spring of 1959, but was suspended that summer because of the fact that the location of I-64 through Richmond had not been established by the State Highway Department and the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads; the study was reactivated in January 1963 after the location of I-64 had been determined. There was an alternatives analysis (conducted by the Virginia Department of Highways) between a northern route (the one chosen), and a southern route which would have passed through the Lynchburg and Roanoke areas. The southern route's Richmond alternatives would have located I-64 south of the downtown and through south Richmond, which is a much different routing than that of the northern route that was chosen; so this decision was essential before the location studies could begin on the Richmond local expressway system's Western Expressway and Belt Line River Crossing and the Downtown Route.
The decision basically came down to the lobbying efforts of Charlottesville, Waynesboro and Staunton being better than the lobbying efforts of the southerly alignment towns (basically just Lynchburg). As far as total population service, both corridors were roughly equal. In the overall scheme of things, the two alignments were about equal in benefits. The original national Interstate system was intended to provide direct service to at least 90% of all cities of 50,000 population or more. Lynchburg was one of the ones which didn't make it. It had/has just over 50,000.
Cities along the proposed I-64 northern route wanted the Interstate to go there, and cities along the proposed I-64 southern route wanted the Interstate to go there. The proposed southern route called for the Interstate to follow from Richmond, near and parallel to US-360 and US-460 via Lynchburg to Roanoke, and near and parallel to US-220 from Roanoke to Clifton Forge, then west following near and parallel to US-60 into West Virginia. The northern route paralleled US-250 from Richmond to Staunton and then paralleled US-11 from Staunton to Lexington, then paralleled US-60 from Lexington to Clifton Forge and the West Virginia line. The initial 1957 recommendation by a state-retained engineering consultant was for the northern route, and in 1959 the state actually did change the location to the southern route, but in 1961 the federal government overturned that in favor of the northern route. This controversy began in 1957 and was not fully resolved until 1963. The northern route was chosen in 1961, and a smaller controversy over routing the highway either just north of Charlottesville of just south of Charlottesville, was not resolved until 1963. See:Charlottesville won, and Lynchburg lost / Routing of I-64 was major tussle, by Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Century Section, June 13, 1999. Here is a map from a 1961 VDH I-64 Location Study, from Non-Indiana Highway Materials of Northwest Indiana Highways.
Early Expressway Studies
The following engineering report is the first public study about expressway planning in the Richmond area. Report on Express Highways, Through and Between the Cities of Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, engineering report prepared for the Department of Highways of the Commonwealth of Virginia, by consulting engineers R. Stuart Royer and Consoer, Townsend and Associates, Richmond, Virginia, 1946.
The following two engineering reports were the preliminary engineering reports that were the foundation for the Richmond city expressway system built to supplement the mainline Interstate Highway routes 95 and 64 which pass through the city. Western Expressway and Belt Line River Crossing, engineering report prepared for City of Richmond, Virginia, by consulting engineers Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff, June 1963. Richmond Expressway System, engineering report prepared for Committee on Trafficways, Richmond, Virginia, by consulting engineers Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff, October 1966.
Expressway planning for the Richmond area goes back to 1946, when the major engineering study was produced,Report on Express Highways, Through and Between the Cities of Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.
This map came from Report on Express Highways, Through and Between the Cities of Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, and it shows a regional view of the proposed expressway system in the 1946 report. The map showed the expressway going south to Petersburg and to the southern and western edge of the city, but I didn't show that here. The heavy orange colored lines are the proposed expressways. I rotated the map 90 degrees so that north would be upward rather than leftward.
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The concept for the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike started here, and the final highway location was generally similar to this report. A Belvidere Street Expressway was proposed along with a parallel Robert E. Lee Bridge span (US-1/US-301 over the James River), and a downtown expressway loop was planned. Other regional expressways were shown, and the final alignments of them were considerably different when they were ultimately built.
This map came from Report on Express Highways, Through and Between the Cities of Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, and it shows a Richmond city view of the proposed expressway system in the 1946 report. The heavy black lines are the proposed expressways. I rotated the map 90 degrees so that north would be upward rather than leftward.
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The 1963 study Western Expressway and Belt Line River Crossing laid the foundation for today's I-195 Beltline Expressway, Downtown Expressway, and Powhite Parkway. The Western Expressway followed the corridor of the Belt Line Railroad and Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, from Acca Yards near today's Bryan Park Interchange (I-64/I-95/I-195), to US-60 Midlothian Turnpike in South Richmond. A Downtown Route was proposed from the Western Expressway to just east of Belvidere Street (US-1/US-301) where it would have ended in multiple local street connections; 3 different routes were studied, one along Idlewood Avenue, one passing well south of the urbanized area but north of the James River, and one that passed along the south shore of the James River with eastern termination at the then-proposed 9th Street Bridge (today's Manchester Bridge). The Downtown Route alternatives north of the river would not have penetrated the central business district; that was considered too expensive, and the highway's eastern terminus would have been branches into several local streets just east of US-1/US-301 Belvidere Street. The Bryan Park Interchange complex design had its genesis here; and it opened in 2 phases, the I-95/I-64 semi-directional interchange opened in 1968, and the I-195 interchange was added and opened in 1975. The study showed detailed traffic projections for the various expressway alternatives, and detailed construction cost estimates projections for the various expressway alternatives.
Engineering Studies for RMA Expressways
The 1966 study Richmond Expressway System was the preliminary design report for the Richmond expressway system. It showed detailed plan and profile views of the proposed highways, with detailed cost estimates. The Beltline Expressway and Powhite Parkway designs were almost identical to the final routes and interchanges that were built. The Beltline Expressway design was shown with a mainline toll collection plaza a couple blocks south of Idlewood Avenue. The Downtown Expressway was essentially the Idlewood Avenue alternative of the 1963 study's Downtown Route, extended through the south edge of the central business district to I-95. Other than a 2-block shift of about a mile of the Downtown Expressway just east of VA-161 Boulevard, the design shown was very similar to the final route built.
Actually the 1966 study Richmond Expressway System showed a fourth planned toll highway, the Riverside Parkway. It would have run 3.1 miles along the south bank of the James River from the Powhite Parkway to VA-147 just south of the Huguenot Bridge. The study had artist's renderings of this and the other highways. The Riverside Parkway would have been very scenic, on an embankment over 20 feet high. However, cost overruns on the rest of the toll highway system led to postponement of the Riverside Parkway, and it was not again in the program after 1971. Between the heavy flooding of the James River by Hurricane Camille in 1969 and by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, plus development of new large houses along the route, plus the fact that major parkland and wetlands would have been traversed, this highway was never built; and certainly in light of later environmental awareness, this highway in my opinion was properly cancelled. Actually plans were in the works to ultimately extend the Riverside Parkway 5.7 miles further west, along the shore of the river, to the proposed VA-288 beltway. With scenic overlooks, this would have been a beautiful parkway (no trucks allowed), but would have totally changed the land use patterns along the river from its largely undeveloped open wooded land pattern. The James River west of downtown Richmond is a shallow rocky river about 1/2-mile wide. Current and future thinking about such a scenic river would be to not build a highway along it, and I agree.
The Richmond Expressway System report prepared by consulting engineers Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff (HNTB) in 1966, was the engineering report on the location and preliminary design and estimated cost of the Richmond expressway system, and it also projected annual costs of maintenance and operation. To accomplish the location and cost study, available topographic maps of the entire expressway system corridors were obtained and upgraded, extensive field reconnaissance was conducted, preliminary borings and subsurface investigations were performed, and pertinent utility information was compiled for the entire system. Soils and foundation conditions were analyzed to determine suitable types of roadway, structure and wall construction. A preliminary drainage plan was prepared, and right-of-way acquisition needs were determined.
This location map came from the 1966 study Richmond Expressway System which was the preliminary design report for the Richmond expressway system. The four planned highways are shown.
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The firm of Wilber Smith and Associates was retained to estimate the anticipated traffic volumes and revenues suitable for revenue bond financing of the system. During development of the Richmond Expressway System, the engineering, traffic and financial studies were presented periodically to the Committee on Trafficways for their review and approval. The system proposed in Richmond Expressway System received complete endorsement from the Committee.
This artist's rendering on an aerial photograph came from the 1966 study Richmond Expressway System, showing the proposed Downtown Expressway, with an oblique rendering looking from the Fan District eastward toward the downtown.
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Concurrently with the foregoing studies, the Committee, through the City of Richmond, retained the firm of White, Weld & Company of New York, to act as financial advisors, and the firm of Wood, King, Dawson & Logan, also of New York, to provide special bond council. After exhaustive study, these two firms collaborated in recommending that enabling legislation be enacted to provide for a separate authority as the best means for bringing the proposed project into reality.
Enabling legislation creating theRichmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA) was enacted during the 1966 session of the Virginia General Assembly. This Authority is a small state agency that was empowered to design, acquire right-of-way, construct, operate, collect tolls, and maintain the Richmond Expressway System, again defined as the Powhite Parkway, Beltline Expressway, Downtown Expressway, and Riverside Parkway.
"On July 1, 1966, a Board of Directors was formed to govern the RMA. The Board consists of 11 members. Six are appointed by the mayor of the City of Richmond with the approval of the Richmond City Council. The Boards of Supervisors of the Counties of Chesterfield and Henrico each appoint two members, and one ex-officio member is appointed by the Commonwealth of Virginia Transportation Board. In addition to the 11 board members, the RMA is guided by a Secretary and General Counsel who takes the minutes of the meetings and provides legal assistance as needed". See:RMA Board of Directors & Executive Staff
The cost estimates in the 1966 report Richmond Expressway System for engineering, right-of-way, construction, legal, administrative and contingencies, were: Riverside Parkway, $7,406,000; Powhite Parkway, $11,585,000; Beltline Expressway, $26,706,000; and Downtown Expressway, $45,274,000; for a total of $90,971,000.
The final as-built costs came to $135.5 million for the whole system: $20.7 million for Powhite Parkway, $51.2 million for I-195, and $63.6 million for the Downtown Expressway.
Total initially proposed system - 13.78 miles (Powhite, Beltline, Downtown,
Total for completed system - 10.71 miles (3.38 Powhite, 3.44 I-195, 3.89 Downtown).
I'll make note, that the 1966 report named the segments differently from how they were named after the expressway system was completed. The Powhite Parkway ran from Chippenham Parkway to the north end of the James River Bridge. The Beltline Expressway ran from the north end of the James River Bridge, along the railroad, and to the I-64/I-95 Bryan Park Interchange. The North Connection Downtown Expressway was the north leg of the delta interchange between the three expressways, the South Connection Downtown Expressway was the south leg of the delta interchange, and the Downtown Expressway ran from the east junction of the delta interchange to I-95 in the downtown.
The naming of the expressways following completion has the Powhite Parkway running from Chippenham Parkway to the I-195 Beltline/north leg of the delta interchange junction at Cary Street, with I-195 continuing to the I-64/I-95 Bryan Park Interchange. The north leg of the delta interchange is a leg of I-195. The Downtown Expressway comprises the south leg of the delta interchange and the Downtown Expressway from the east junction of the delta interchange to I-95 in the downtown.
The article "Richmond Expressway Routes Disclosed", Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 23, 1966, discussed at length the system after the route locations were announced by the city and state for the 4 expressways, and there was a large map of the proposed system. When I visited the Richmond Times-Dispatch archives, I could see that there were numerous newspaper articles every year from 1946 onward about the development of the regional expressway system, which in the earlier years included the development of the north-south Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike which was completed in 1958 and the east-west I-64 which was completed in 1968.
Both theRichmond Times-Dispatch and the Richmond News-Leader tracked the development of the expressways. The Richmond Times-Dispatch is the regional morning newspaper, and the Richmond News-Leader was the regional afternoon newspaper until it and its staff merged with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1992. Both newspapers are well respected with wide circulation, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch today has the largest circulation of any Virginia-based newspaper.
Excerpts from the article "Richmond Expressway Routes Disclosed", Richmond
Times-Dispatch, October 23, 1966, (blue text):
Charles A. Taylor, chairman of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, said yesterday, "The board of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority is highly pleased that relief from a great deal of our area's traffic congestion has been brought in sight by the two years of energetic work of the trafficways committee which we have inherited".
"It is the belief of our board that a system of expressways will be of inestimable value to the citizens of our community by making it more convenient, more comfortable, more prosperous, and more beautiful. We look forward to working with engineers, financiers, legal experts, administrators and the public to bring an expressway system into being just as rapidly as possible and we are resolved to do our very best to find solutions to the many problems that will face us".
The article then went on and discussed details of each of the four expressways.
The expressway plan was developed during more than two years of work by City Council's Committee on Trafficways. Now the committee's work has been turned over to the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, an 11-member agency created by the 1966 General Assembly. The governments of Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield and the State Highway Commission all appoint representatives to the authority. The final selection of the routes is in the hands of the authority.
The article has a map showing the proposed locations of the four expressways, and it has a photo of George W. Cheadle pointing at an aerial rendering of the proposed expressways near the City Stadium. Cheadle was the City Manager's Aide who was appointed to direct the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA), and he served as its General Manager during its early years, and he held that position from then through the completion of the expressways.
The entire 10.7-mile-long highway system of Powhite, Beltline and Downtown, costly urban expressways with nearly 2/3 of the distance depressed, could have been built by RMA as planned as tollroads if not for worsening national economic conditions, especially major price inflation which drove costs upward. In 1968, RMA advertised for bids on the 10 scheduled projects, and all but one exceeded the engineers' estimates. Under the Authority's financing plan, the projects could not be awarded. That and an unfavorable bond market brought RMA's expressway building plans to an unexpected halt.
The first bond sale did not occur until 1971, at 7% interest on the issue of $51,300,000. This was used to retire $22,000,000 in "Temporary Loan Notes", of which $21,000,000 had been underwritten by the City of Richmond, to finance the construction of the Powhite Parkway and the Beltline Expressway Connector to Cary Street. By this time, the Riverside Parkway had been eliminated from the expressway system plan.
The 1972 General Assembly decided to assign 0.9 mile of the Downtown Expressway (from Davis Avenue to McCloy Street) to VDHT to be built as an Urban System project with 100% state highway funds (no federal funds), thus relieving RMA from building that section as part of its toll revenue bond financed toll road system. It was called VDHT Project 0088, and VDHT administered the project, and it essentially extended the I-195 highway eastward from the southern limit of I-195. Actually Project 0088 cannot be driven by itself without using part of the toll system also, still, the fact that it was built with state highway funds, meant that this lowered the amount of toll revenue bond funding needed for the whole expressway system.
The key item that advanced the expressway system plans was getting the Beltline Expressway added to the national Interstate highway system as Interstate route I-195, thus obtaining approval for financing it with 90% federal funding from the Highway Trust Fund and 10% state highway funding, and thus obviating the former plan to use RMA toll revenue bonds to finance the construction of the highway. This provided for a toll-free I-195, and a considerably lower mileage that was to be built as toll roads; just the Powhite Parkway and the Downtown Expressway were built as toll roads. Source: "Richmond Expressway System Progresses", Virginia Road Builder, September 1974.
The history of I-195 is a direct part of this article, but I have a separate website article about that, and I will direct the reader to my website articleI-195 Beltline Expressway to read that portion, and the continuity of this article flows from this point here, to the I-195 article, and then back to this point here again.
The I-195 construction began in May 1971 and the Beltline Expressway portion of I-195 opened on July 15, 1975. The I-195 connector to the Downtown Expressway opened on February 3, 1976 along with 2.7 miles of the Downtown Expressway.
The "Beltline Expressway" name never caught on in public usage, perhaps because the name is not posted on any road sign, and I have not seen it on any commercial maps either, including the early and later RMA maps of the expressway system that were distributed to the public after the system opened. The highway is commonly known simply as "I-195" and local radio traffic reporters sometimes call it the "195 Beltline".
The RMA did indeed build the Powhite Parkway which opened in January 1973, and the Downtown Expressway which opened in 1976, although the 2 southerly ramps to I-95 was opened in 1977. RMA continues to administer these highways today. The Riverside Parkway was cancelled as mentioned before. The I-195 Beltline Expressway was built by the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation (VDHT) as a toll-free Interstate highway.
I-195 has 6 lanes throughout, except for the 4-lane connector between the Beltline Expressway and the Downtown Expressway. The Powhite Parkway was built with 6 lanes from the south junction of the Stadium Interchange (the spread delta interchange between the Beltline, Powhite and Downtown expressways) to Forest Hill Avenue, and 4 lanes elsewhere; although the highway was widened in 1989 to 10 lanes from the Stadium Interchange to Forest Hill Avenue, and 6 lanes on the remainder of the highway. The Powhite Parkway section from the Stadium Interchange to Forest Hill Avenue includes a James River bridge 1,971 feet long, and in the present 10-lane configuration, this 1.4-mile-long section is the widest highway in the Richmond area. The Downtown Expressway has 6 lanes between the east junction of the Stadium Interchange and US-1/US-301 Belvidere Street, and 4 lanes from Belvidere Street to the elevated I-95 interchange, and the Downtown Expressway Connector to Powhite Parkway (the south leg of the delta interchange) has 4 lanes.
As mentioned before, in 1968, RMA advertised for bids on the 10 scheduled projects for the Powhite, Beltline and Downtown expressways, and all but one exceeded the engineers' estimates, and under the Authority's financing plan, the projects could not be awarded. The worsening national economic conditions, especially major price inflation which drove costs upward, and an unfavorable bond market brought RMA's expressway building plans to an unexpected halt. The approval in 1969 to build the Beltline Expressway as a toll-free Interstate highway was a major financing breakthrough, and it was placed under construction in May 1971. More favorable bond interest rates were found, and bond issue sales began in 1971, as did construction of the Powhite Parkway and Beltline Expressway. Source: "Beltline Expressway I-195 Spur Built", Virginia Road Builder, October 1974.
There were minimal property relocations on the Beltline Expressway project, including 14 residential dwellings, and 10 commercial and industrial properties. As was said before, it mainly follows the depressed Beltline Railroad, and the elevated northern portion passed through some commercial and some undeveloped areas.
The Powhite Parkway's construction projects cost $17.79 million (source: "Beltline Expressway I-195 Spur Built", Virginia Road Builder, October 1974), and had 2 residential dwellings acquired, as the parkway was constructed generally in the flood plain of Powhite Creek and involved relocation of portions of the creek. As you can see, the "Powhite" name came from the creek that generally parallels the parkway. The Powhite Parkway was completed and opened on January 24, 1973, and it runs from Cary Street to Chippenham Parkway. The median widens out to several hundred feet wide at one point between the main line toll plaza and Chippenham Parkway; it can be seen in the 1966 engineering study Richmond Expressway System that this was originally intended to contain a lake with a scenic overlook and parking area accessed by ramps to and from the left lanes of the parkway. The highway itself was designed and built to accommodate this feature, but I have not yet found any source that documents why it was never developed. The Powhite Parkway has parkway-like design features along much of its length, but it is a full-fledged expressway that allows cars, buses, and large trucks, and it is an integral part of the regional expressway system that handles local, regional, interregional, and interstate traffic. The heavy traffic volumes would seem to make usage of such a median scenic overlook to be problematical.
So the Powhite Parkway and Beltline Expressway projects advanced to construction quickly, due to the above stated conditions of minimal property acquisition impacts and minimal financing problems.
The development of the Downtown Expressway had much larger hurdles to cross, with its large-scale property acquisition impacts, its high cost, its impacts to parkland at the north edge of Byrd Park, and its impacts to canal artifacts in the downtown. The canal artifacts in the downtown was the focus of a group of citizen activists who filed a lawsuit in 1973 to attempt to block the construction of that segment of the Downtown Expressway. The lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court on January 9, 1973, and rejected by Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr. on May 8, 1973, and the group appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the appellate court rejected the appeal on August 17, 1973. Both of these courts are located in Richmond. The group considered an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but did not file one, and the group publicly dropped any further court action on September 11, 1973. That essentially cleared the way to the awarding of all mainline construction contracts on the Downtown Expressway.
The Downtown Expressway is one of the very few urban highways in Virginia that had large-scale relocations of residences and businesses. There were over 700 residential dwelling units relocated from the path of the expressway, mainly in the Randolph, Sydney and Oregon Hill neighborhoods (this included the north leg of the delta interchange between the three expressways), and there were almost 150 business relocations, mainly in the downtown area and in the area just west of the downtown. After RMA and the City Council approved the location and design of the expressway in 1966, the City Council passed condemnation ordinances so that negotiation with property owners could be undertaken to acquire the properties, and to use the power of eminent domain to condemn a property if a negotiated settlement could not be achieved. Appropriate cash settlements were provided in either case to pay the market value of the property acquired, plus the relocation expenses, plus additional damage payments as deemed necessary. The city housing authority and other city agencies participated in relocating the affected residents and businesses. The acquisitions were begun in 1967 and were completed by 1968 with the right-of-way cleared and buildings demolished.
Richmond, like many other cities in the 1800s, had built a large canal system for commerce, and much of the system was filled in and redeveloped in the 1900s. Portions of the James River and Kanawha Canal system still exist today, and major portions along a 2-mile length in the downtown were restored and reopened in 1999 to pleasure boat and park use. A very attractive long linear urban park is the result, and there are a few other candidate portions that might be restored also.
One branch of the canal system included a turning basin and 2 locks in the area bounded by Canal, 12th, Byrd, and 7th Streets. Due to a number of large commercial buildings including the Ethyl Corporation headquarters complex, and a large state prison complex, the expressway planners found that the least impacting route east of Belvidere Street (US-1/US-301) was to build the expressway between Canal Street and Byrd Street, which parallel each other a block apart. The route used the entire city block width for right-of-way on a depressed 6-lane cross-section with sloped earthen embankments, from Belvidere Street to 2nd Street, and east of there the cross-section narrows down to 4 lanes with retaining walls so that a half-block width of large commercial buildings could be retained. This least impacting route passed over the canal artifacts mentioned above, and these had been completely filled in with earth almost 100 years before, and were being used for parking areas in 1970. Still, the walls of the canal and locks were made of large blocks of hewn stone, and had historical significance even though they were buried underground.
In March 1972, an organization called James River and Kanawha Canal Parks, Inc. was incorporated by a citizen group that wanted to restore this and other portions of the old city canal system into a urban park and tourist attraction, and they lobbied to have the Downtown Expressway terminated at 5th Street, or perhaps even as far west as Belvidere Street, with the cancellation of the extension through the downtown to I-95. This is the group that I mentioned before that filed the lawsuit against the project. The group sued for a court injunction to force the compilation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). They also argued that the canal artifacts should be considered a navigable waterway protected under the federal River and Harbors Act, needing a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) before the expressway could be built through it.
The defendant's (RMA and other state and federal parties) attorneys successfully argued that since no federal funds were involved in any part of the Downtown Expressway project, that this was not a federal issue and that the NEPA EIS was not applicable. RMA attorneys also successfully argued that the canal artifacts in that five-block stretch were in no way to be considered a navigable waterway, since they were completely filled in and covered with earth, and that the land use of that area had not been canal-related in almost 100 years. Judge Merhige filed a 51-page memorandum opinion and accompanying order, which was designed to provide adequate supporting documentation should the decision be appealed to the appellate court.
The plaintiff's attorneys provided counter-arguments that the project should be considered federal (and subject to NEPA EIS) since the Downtown Expressway connects two Interstate highways, I-195 and I-95, and that the Expressway is essentially an extension of the federally-funded I-195. The plaintiff's attorneys also argued that since the canal had never been officially de-designated from federal status as a navigable waterway, that it should still be considered with that status, and subject to ACoE review and permitting.
The defendant's attorneys successfully argued that those counter-arguments were bogus, since the Downtown Expressway was an independent highway in its own right, even though it was part of a regional expressway system; also, that I-95 in Richmond was a state-funded tollroad (no federal funds were used); also, that the Downtown Expressway is not an extension of I-195, but is a distinct route in and of itself; also, that the canal could not be considered a navigable waterway since it was completely filled in and covered with earth, and that it was missing the most necessary ingredient of all, namely water, and that only through expensive major reconstruction could the canal be restored to a navigable waterway. Also, the EIS process established under NEPA of 1970 was still a new process, and the early 1970s still saw some federally-aided highway projects conceived in the 1960s being granted approval under the grandfathering concept, without an EIS.
Judge Merhige stated at one point while rendering the decision, "The protection of our environment and of our places of historical importance are of utmost importance, yet the decision as to how to protect them must come from the Congress of the United States and the legislatures of the various states. Where, as here, highway planners meet all of the requirements of law applicable to them, nothing further is required". Source - "Judge Rejects Legal Bid To Halt City Expressway", Richmond News-Leader, May 8, 1973.
The legal challenges of the citizen activist group were not supportable based on the rule of law, and as I said, the challenges ended in September 1973. RMA awarded all the Downtown Expressway construction contracts (except the one for the two southerly I-95 ramps) between November 1973 and May 1974. The VDHT Project 0088 was awarded in July 1973.
Much of the Downtown Expressway is depressed below grade, and over 3 million cubic yards of earth needed to be excavated and trucked to remote disposal sites. The planners decided that this was the most environmentally acceptable way to build a freeway through urban and residential areas. An expressway built at surface level would require the many street crossings to rise on earthen embankment approaches so that they could pass over the expressway on overpass bridges, and those approaches would usually require acquiring many developed properties. An elevated expressway would pass over all crossing streets without changing their grade, but then there would be a large elevated viaduct in and near urban areas, with the associated high visual impact, plus maximized noise impacts radiating for a long distance from the raised source. The depressed expressway would be built far enough below grade so that normally the grade (vertical alignment) of the crossing streets remained the same, with a bridge built so that the street could cross the expressway. With the sound source well below the existing ground level, the noise is radiated upward, providing much less traffic noise in nearby neighborhoods than with the elevated or surface level expressway designs. The depressed expressway also is not visible from ground level from more than about 50 feet away. The depressed expressway does involve major design and construction challenges, since a large amount of surplus excavation needs to be disposed of, and all crossing underground utilities need to be relocated, and an elaborate storm sewer system needs to be designed and built to gather the storm water that accumulates in the expressway trench, and carry it away in underground water tunnel outfalls to local major creeks and rivers. All factors considered, though, the depressed design fits better into the urban environment, than do the others.
A reinforced concrete cover was built over the depressed expressway between 7th Street and 10th Street, to restore connectivity between the heart of the downtown and the James River which is three blocks from the expressway. Landscaping was built over the cover between 7th Street and 9th Street, with an attractive urban park called Kanawha Plaza built over the expressway. From ground level, it looks like a seamless urban surface and the expressway is underground and out of sight. The Federal Reserve Bank tower was built in the late 1970s on the southwest corner of the expressway/Byrd Street and 9th Street. The James Center development built 4 large, tall office buildings in the 1980s just north of expressway in the area of Canal Street and 9th and 10th Streets. In the early 1990s, a large twin office tower called Riverfront Plaza was built on the southeast corner of the expressway/Byrd Street and 9th Street. In 1992, the Expressway Parking Deck opened, which is a 6-story parking garage that RMA built on top of the expressway cover between 9th Street and 10th Street. So a lot of urban development has occurred in the downtown area near the covered portion of the expressway since the expressway opened in 1976.
The proposed replacement of the old downtown 2-lane 9th Street Bridge over the James River was mentioned briefly in both the 1963 Western Expressway and Belt Line River Crossing engineering report, and in the 1966 Richmond Expressway System engineering report, since it was an actively planned project in the same era that the expressways were being planned, and it was interrelated with the Downtown Expressway from a traffic standpoint, as its northern approach passes over the expressway. The new bridge's proposed location was shown in the 1966 report, with the indication that it would be built "by others", meaning that it was planned as a project separate from the expressway system. Its planning, design and construction was handled as an Urban System project of VDHT, meaning that it was primarily funded by VDHT, but included City of Richmond funding too, and in effect was a joint city/state project. The replacement bridge is named the Manchester Bridge (after the name of the part of the city that the bridge connects to on the south shore of the river), and it is 2,909 feet long and has a maximum roadway height above the river of 110 feet, and it opened in 1972. It has 6 lanes with shoulders and has a pedestrian walkway on the raised median. See: Inside Richmond"River Crossings". Also, see my article Richmond Downtown Aerial Photos for photos of the Manchester Bridge and the elevated connection of the Downtown Expressway with I-95.
The large blocks of hewn stone from the walls of the canal and locks, which were removed during construction of the expressway, were taken to an RMA storage area for future use, since they have historical significance. About 100 of them were borrowed to form decorative terraces in an urban plaza next to the Omni International Hotel downtown at Cary Street and 10th Street, when the hotel was built in the early 1990s.
The Downtown Expressway route used the entire city block width between parallel Canal Street and Byrd Street for right-of-way on a depressed 6-lane cross-section with sloped earthen embankments, eastward from Belvidere Street (US-1/US-301) to 2nd Street, and east of there the cross section narrows down to 4 lanes with retaining walls so that a half-block width of large commercial buildings could be retained. The easternmost 0.5 mile of the expressway rises onto a double-decked viaduct with 2 lanes on each deck, and the expressway interchanges with the I-95 James River Bridge, with all ramps on bridge structure, tying into the I-95 bridge's overland section.
West of Belvidere Street, the route typically used the entire city block width (between parallel Cumberland Avenue and Idlewood Avenue just west of Belvidere Street, and west of there between parallel Parkwood Avenue and Grayland Avenue) for right-of-way on a depressed 6-lane cross-section with sloped earthen embankments. On one two-block section near Cherry Street and Idlewood Avenue, there was a narrowing of the right-of-way, and retaining walls were used to reduce the cross-section to a half-block width, to avoid the St. Andrews Episcopal Church and Parochial School in the Oregon Hill neighborhood.
The Downtown Expressway opened with 2.7 miles between 7th Street in the downtown and I-195 and Powhite Parkway on February 3, 1976. On August 25, 1976, the 0.7-mile section between 7th Street and I-95 was opened, although only the two northerly ramps to I-95 opened then. The two southerly ramps with I-95 were delayed by the permitting process where the U.S. Coast Guard needed to issue a permit to allow RMA to build 5 bridge piers in the channel of the truncated end of the old city canal, unused by marine traffic for over 30 years and largely silted in, with or without standing water based on the amount of recent rainfall, but still considered a navigable waterway by the Coast Guard. The permit was issued and the ramps were constructed and opened on September 1, 1977, thus completing the RMA expressway system. The final cost of the 3.4 mile Downtown Expressway was $63.6 million for engineering, right-of-way, utilities and construction. Sources: "Expressway to Open", Richmond News-Leader, February 2, 1976; "Richmond Expressway System Progresses", Virginia Road Builder magazine, September 1974.
There is a spread delta interchange (called the Stadium Interchange by RMA) near the University of Richmond Stadium (named City Stadium when the expressways were built); between I-195, the Downtown Expressway and the Powhite Parkway; each leg essentially provides a through-expressway connection between the expressways. The I-195 Beltline connector to Powhite Parkway has 6 lanes (originally 4 lanes and widened in 1990), and the other two legs of the Stadium Interchange have 4 lanes. Each of the three connector legs of the Stadium Interchange have local interchanges.
The Downtown Expressway has 6 lanes (with a 44-foot-wide median that can accommodate 2 future additional lanes with 2 full emergency left shoulders and a New Jersey Median Barrier) between the Stadium Interchange (easterly junction) and Belvidere Street, and 4 lanes between Belvidere Street and I-95, with the 44-foot-wide median continuing eastward to 2nd Street where it narrows down to 18 feet between 5th Street and the elevated viaduct connector to I-95. The Downtown Expressway connector to the Powhite Parkway has 4 lanes with an 18-foot-wide median, and the portion of I-195 between the Beltline Expressway and the Downtown Expressway has 4 lanes with an 18-foot-wide median. The 44-foot-wide medians have 6-foot paved left shoulders and the remainder grass, and the 18-foot-wide medians are paved and have a New Jersey Median Barrier. The entire portion of I-195 that follows the Beltline Railroad, has 6 lanes, and each roadway has a 12-foot-wide emergency shoulder on the right and a 7-foot-wide emergency shoulder on the left; and retaining walls restrict the possibility of widening with additional lanes. The Downtown Expressway and its legs of the delta interchange, have 10-foot right shoulders. North of the river including the James River Bridge, the Powhite Parkway has 10-foot right shoulders and 6-foot left shoulders; south of the river it has a paved median with a New Jersey Median Barrier, and 10-foot grass right shoulders.
See this link of mine for a map of the Downtown Expressway and the Stadium Interchange -Downtown Expressway (749K). From map A Guide to Richmond's Expressway System, by Richmond Metropolitan Authority, 1977.
The 3.4-mile-long Powhite Parkway has 10 lanes between the Downtown Expressway and Forest Hill Avenue (this section includes the James River Bridge), and 6 lanes between Forest Hill Avenue and Chippenham Parkway, and 6 lanes between I-195 and the Downtown Expressway. The Powhite Parkway was originally built with 6 lanes between the Downtown Expressway and Forest Hill Avenue, and 4 lanes between Forest Hill Avenue and Chippenham Parkway, and 4 lanes between I-195 and the Downtown Expressway; the widening was completed in 1989. The James River (Powhite Parkway) Bridge is 1,971 feet long and has a maximum roadway height above the river of 45 feet, and it opened in 1973. It has 10 lanes (5 each way) with 10-foot right shoulders. See: Inside Richmond"River Crossings".
The 10-mile-long 4-lane VA-76 Powhite Parkway Extension was built by VDOT from 1986 to 1988, and it is a VDOT-administered toll road that cost $89 million to build, and it extends the RMA Powhite Parkway westward into Chesterfield County, ending in junctions with the VA-288 beltway and VA-652 Old Hundred Road. The mainline toll plaza is 1/2 mile west of Courthouse Road, and the automobile toll has been $0.75 since the highway opened in November 1988. The 2.8 miles of VA-288 between US-360 and VA-76 was funded and built as a part of the Powhite Parkway Extension program, and VA-288 is toll-free.
A further 8-mile-long westward Powhite Parkway extension to US-360 in the Winterpock area has been discussed various times in the last 20 years, but no actual VDOT funding for preliminary engineering has yet been provided, although the project is listed in the 2023 long range transportation program for the Richmond area'sRichmond Regional Planning District Commission.
In March 2003, VDOT received an
Unsolicited PPTA Proposal from Powhite Parkway Partners, LLC, to design and build
the Powhite Parkway Western Extension under the
Transportation Act, by 2009 as a toll road.
All of these toll expressways, and the VA-161 Boulevard Bridge over the James River, use theSmart Tag system of electronic toll collection (ETC), which was implemented in 1999 at a cost of $25 million to supplement the manual and automatic toll collection booths. Quote (blue text):
Here is a brief history of toll rates and toll collection on the RMA Powhite Parkway and the RMA Downtown Expressway, using the RMA website in February 2009 as the source of information. The original automobile mainline tolls were, the Powhite Parkway was 20 cents, and the Downtown Expressway was 15 cents. On July 30, 1978, tolls on Powhite increased from 20 cents to 25 cents, and on Downtown Expressway from 15 cents to 25 cents. On November 1, 1986, automobile tolls on both the Powhite Parkway and the Downtown Expressway increased from 25 cents to 30 cents. On June 1, 1987, toll tokens were introduced. On April 2, 1988, tolls on both the Powhite Parkway and the Downtown Expressway increased from 30 cents to 35 cents. In October 1994, RMA and VDOT announced survey results where the public was surveyed about instituting electronic toll collection (ETC) on Richmond area toll highways and bridges, and the public favored it by a large margin. On January 5, 1998, automobile tolls on Powhite and Downtown Expressway increased from 35 cents to 50 cents. On July 1, 1999, the ETC system called Smart Tag was implemented by RMA. Smart Tag does not eliminate manual and automatic toll collections, it augments it. On October 27, 2004, Smart Tag merged into the E-ZPass consortium that a number of states utilize for electronic toll collection.
On September 7, 2008, a $24 million project was completed to provide open road tolling at the Powhite Parkway mainline toll plaza, and this provides three high-speed freeway-standard lanes in each direction for E-ZPass users, and a conventional toll plaza in each direction with provisions for cash, exact change, and E-ZPass, and this project has eliminated a major traffic bottleneck on the parkway. The mainline Powhite Parkway toll plaza is 1/2 mile southwest of Forest Hill Avenue. On September 8, 2008, automobile mainline tolls on Powhite Parkway and Downtown Expressway increased from 50 cents to 70 cents. The Forest Hill Avenue interchange has a total of eight toll lanes on its three on- and off-ramps with Powhite Parkway, and its toll rate is the same as the mainline Powhite Parkway toll plaza. The mainline Downtown Expressway toll plaza has 12 lanes, and it is located near Lombardy Street and Parkwood Avenue, and four of the toll plaza lanes there are reversible. The E-ZPass-only lanes are in the middle of a directional group of mainline toll lanes, and the speed limit is 10 mph. There are a variety of ramp tolls on some ramps of the RMA system.
Here is a brief traffic volume summary on the RMA Powhite Parkway and the RMA Downtown Expressway, using the RMA website in February 2009 as the source of information. An average of approximately 54,000 vehicles utilize the Downtown Expressway each day. An average of nearly 90,000 vehicles travel on the Powhite Parkway each day, with that figure rising to nearly 100,000 on peak days. Official VDOT traffic data shows that large trucks comprise 4% of the traffic on each highway.
The first planning study for circumferential highway routes in Chesterfield County was Chesterfield Circumferential Routes, Location and Design Study, Inner Route - Middle Corridor - Outer Corridor, prepared by Virginia Department of Highways, September 1962. The study looked at alternatives for inner, middle and outer circumferential highways, and this was the official genesis for what later became the Chippenham Parkway and the VA-288 beltway.
The following report is the 1968 major thoroughfare plan for the Richmond area. Richmond Regional Area Transportation Study, Volume 5 "Recommended Thoroughfare Plan - Street Inventory, Functional Plans, and Cost Estimates", engineering report prepared in cooperation with Richmond Regional Planning Commission, City of Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, Richmond Metropolitan Authority, Virginia Department of Highways, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Bureau of Public Roads, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Prepared by consultant Wilbur Smith and Associates, 1964-1968.
The study Richmond Regional Area Transportation Study represented the high-water mark for highway and expressway planning in the region. The full expressway system from Richmond Expressway System was shown; the 3.4-mile-long Powhite Parkway, the 3.9-mile-long Downtown Expressway, the 3.1-mile-long Riverside Parkway, and the 3.4-mile-long I-195 Beltline Expressway which got approval for 90% federal funding as an Interstate highway in 1969 (the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was approved for 41,000 miles of routes in 1956, and in 1968 1,500 miles was added to the system, mostly for urban beltways and spurs). The Chippenham Parkway was shown as a full limited access highway from I-95 to Huguenot Road, in the routing that was built by 1967 as a mostly-two-lane highway with at-grade intersections and built on a 4-lane right-of-way, and with its present route number, VA-150; and it was upgraded to full 4-lane freeway standards between I-95 and Forest Hill Avenue in a series of projects from 1973 to 1982. The Riverside Parkway was shown, from Powhite Parkway to Huguenot Road, plus a proposed extension along the north bank of the James River, all the way west to VA-288 near the county border of Henrico and Goochland Counties.
This map came from the study Richmond Regional Area Transportation Study, showing the Recommended 1980 Thoroughfare Plan for the Richmond Regional Area.
Click for larger map images:Small (75K), Medium (106K), Large (233K), Extra Large (382K). The largest image is the best one for clearly seeing the route numbers. Use "Back" button to return.
The Laburnum Avenue Extension was shown as a 4-lane extension of Chippenham Parkway, from I-95, across the James River to Laburnum Avenue and VA-5 near Varina in Henrico County; this general alignment is being used for theRoute 895 Connector that began construction in October 1998. The report proposed a high-level bascule span drawbridge over the James River, with 50 feet of vertical navigational clearance when closed. When the I-95 Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike was widened 1974-1978, the 3-way trumpet interchange between I-95 and VA-150 Chippenham Parkway was reconstructed into a semi-directional interchange, and the design included provision for a future second phase to extend VA-150 eastward over I-95 and over the river, with design provision for 4 future ramps to complete the full 4-way freeway-to-freeway interchange. The Route 895 bridge presently under construction will be a fixed high level bridge with 145 feet of vertical navigational clearance.
A 6-lane expressway called the Southern Beltway was shown in this thoroughfare plan. This is the only report where I've ever seen this proposed highway; I don't think the concept ever took hold as a continuing regional desire. Essentially, it would have been an extension of the Riverside Parkway from the Riverside Parkway/Powhite Parkway interchange, 12.2 miles long, following just west of the Belt Line Railroad corridor in south Richmond, running on a rough radius from the downtown just over half the radius of today's Chippenham Parkway/Laburnum Avenue corridor, crossing I-95 and the James River just north of the Richmond Marine Terminal (formerly Richmond Deepwater Terminal), and ending with an interchange with I-64 west of the Laburnum Avenue/I-64 interchange east of Richmond. The Southern Beltway would have had 10 interchanges.
The VA-150 Parham-Chippenham Connector was not included in the 1969 report. This was completed in 1990 as the 4-lane limited access VA-150 Chippenham Parkway Extension, which includes the Edmund E. Willey Bridge over the James River, at a cost of $56 million.
In the 1968 major thoroughfare plan, the Richmond Beltway was shown proposed as a complete 66.2-mile-long circumferential expressway around the region. The 36.2-mile-long portion north of I-64 and east of I-95 was proposed as I-295, and the 30.0-mile-long portion south of I-64 and west of I-95 was proposed as VA-288.
The history of the I-295/VA-288 Richmond Beltway is a direct part of this article, but I have a separate website article about that, and I will direct the reader to my website articleRichmond Beltway (I-295 and VA-288) to read that portion, and the continuity of this article flows from this point here, to the Richmond Beltway article, and then back to this point here again.
Post-Implementation Review of RMA Expressways
A major article was published later, "Downtown Expressway has Benefited Richmond", Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 12, 1986. The article provides an interesting perspective about the expressway system about ten years after it was completed. The article summarizes the main points that I have written in my article here, and it provided a balanced discussion of the benefits of the expressway and its impacts.
One of the main opponents to the Downtown Expressway during its planning stages, was Councilman Henry L. Marsh III, an African-American who later served a term as Mayor of Richmond, and he was quoted in this article. He discusses how he was concerned about the major social costs of the expressway due to the major relocations of homes and businesses, and how years later, he could see both tangible and intangible value in the RMA expressway system.
Excerpts from the article (blue text):
"On the whole," he [Marsh] said recently, "I would say that the expressway would be a positive, in that the downtown business district and the retail core are essential elements to Richmond's progress and vitality. I think the expressway is an asset to the city in that it certainly was a motivating factor in the development of the financial district, in the Cary-to-Main Street area," he said. "Without the expressway, that district would not have developed to the extent that it has. And to that extent, I think it's certainly a plus."
Now Marsh says he uses the toll road "quite a bit" and does not dwell much on the fact that the downtown leg of the RMA system eradicated a field where he used to play ball and wiped out the Marsh family homestead at what used to be the corner of Addison Street and Grayland Avenue. "It also serves as an integral part of a network of roadways which enable Richmond to be in the forefront of cities with progressive, effective highway systems, so that people can move from one part of the Richmond area to any other part in a very short period of time," the councilman asserted.
"The Downtown Expressway and the RMA are not the entire network, but are an integral part of that network. And I think to that extent it helps the entire Richmond community become a more progressive place," Marsh said. "It puts us in a good posture for the future."
The article goes on to quote attorney A. J. Brent, who had been general council to the RMA since its inception. He stated that he believed that the city's supplementary financial contributions over the years to RMA had more than paid for themselves by the development stimulated by the expressway, and in particular cites the downtown Federal Reserve Building, the Dominion Virginia Power (old VEPCO) building, and the CSX development, as developments that probably would not have occurred if not for the expressway system and in particular the downtown leg of the Downtown Expressway.
Brent cited as a direct benefit of the expressways, that area residents have an easy, comfortable, convenient and fast way to get to the downtown, and that a financial plan was devised to pay for it at a time when neither the state nor the localities could afford to build it. Brent and other RMA officials were cited as believing that a major intangible benefit of the RMA's activities, is that it helped foster a greater sense of cooperation between the City of Richmond and the adjoining suburbs in Chesterfield County and Henrico County. Brent suggested that RMA happened to be established at a time when the threat of city annexation of county land had caused less than ideal public relations between the city and the two counties.
1. Report on Express Highways, Through and Between the Cities of Richmond
and Petersburg, Virginia, engineering report prepared for the Department
of Highways of the Commonwealth of Virginia, by consulting engineers R. Stuart
Royer and Consoer, Townsend and Associates, Richmond, Virginia, 1946.
2. Transportation, a Master Plan Study, prepared by Segoe-DeLeuw, 1950.
3. Engineering Report, Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, prepared by Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Hall & MacDonald, August 1955.
4. Map Proposed Major Street and Highway Plan, which was approved by the Richmond City Council in April 1959.
5. Chesterfield Circumferential Routes, Location and Design Study, Inner Route - Middle Corridor - Outer Corridor, prepared by Virginia Department of Highways, September 1962.
6. Western Expressway and Belt Line River Crossing, engineering report prepared for City of Richmond, Virginia, by consulting engineers Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff, June 1963.
7. Richmond Expressway System, engineering report prepared for Committee on Trafficways, Richmond, Virginia, by consulting engineers Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff, October 1966.
8. "Richmond Expressway Routes Disclosed", Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 23, 1966.
9. Richmond Regional Area Transportation Study, Volume 5 "Recommended Thoroughfare Plan - Street Inventory, Functional Plans, and Cost Estimates", engineering report prepared in cooperation with Richmond Regional Planning Commission, City of Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, Richmond Metropolitan Authority, Virginia Department of Highways, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Prepared by consultant Wilbur Smith and Associates, 1964-1968.
10. "Proposed Tollway Shift Held Costly", Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 13, 1972.
11. "Judge Rejects Legal Bid To Halt City Expressway", Richmond News-Leader, May 8, 1973.
12. Final Environmental/Section 4(f) Statement Administrative Action for Interstate Route 295, Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico Counties, by Virginia Department of Highways, Environmental Quality Division, in cooperation with U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, May 1973.
13. "RMA Takes Legal Shot At Foes' Views Again", Richmond News-Leader, August 9, 1973.
14. "RMA's Foes Lose Expressway Appeal", Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 18, 1973.
15. "Tollway Foes' Dilemma: To Yield, or Renew Costly Battle", Richmond News-Leader, August 30, 1973.
16. "Expressway Foes Drop Court Fight", Richmond News-Leader, September 11, 1973.
17. "Expressway Taking Shape", Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 26, 1974.
18. "Route of the Downtown Expressway", Richmond News-Leader, June 19, 1974.
19. "Richmond Expressway System Progresses", Virginia Road Builder, September 1974.
20. "Beltline Expressway I-195 Spur Built", Virginia Road Builder, October 1974.
21. "Beltline Slated To Open July 15", Richmond News-Leader, April 25, 1975.
22. "New Beltline Safe, Costly, Toll-Free", Richmond News-Leader, July 14, 1975.
23. "A Ribbon Cutting in Richmond", VDH&T BULLETIN, July-August 1975, Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation.
24. "Paying Station", Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 22, 1975.
25. "Expressway Leg to Open", Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 25, 1976.
26. "'Football Field' is Due to Open", Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 25, 1976.
27. "Powhite Parkway & Downtown Expressway - Location Map & Interchange Details", Richmond Metropolitan Authority, February, 1976.
28. "Expressway to Open", Richmond News-Leader, February 2, 1976.
29. "Downtown Expressway - It Will Open Today", Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 3, 1976.
30. "Expressway Ramp Opened to I-95 Northbound", Richmond News-Leader, August 26, 1976.
31. "Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike Suffers Widening Pains", Virginia Road Builder, October 1976.
32. Map A Guide to Richmond's Expressway System, by Richmond Metropolitan Authority, 1977.
33. "Downtown Expressway has Benefited Richmond", Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 12, 1986.
34. "Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike History", VDOT News Release, June 12, 1992.
35. "I-95/295 Traffic Changes Begin June 26", VDOT News Release, June 12, 1992.
36. "I-95/295 Traffic Changes in Virginia Begin June 26", VDOT News Release, June 22, 1992.
Both theRichmond Times-Dispatch and the Richmond News-Leader tracked the development of the expressways. The Richmond Times-Dispatch is the regional morning newspaper, and the Richmond News-Leader was the regional afternoon newspaper until it and its staff merged with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1992. Both newspapers are well respected with wide circulation, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch today has the largest circulation of any Virginia-based newspaper. The Virginia Road Builder magazine was published for over 30 years by the Virginia Road Builders Association, beginning in 1944, and it ceased publication in the early 1980s.
Metropolitan Authority (RMA)
History of the RMA
Powhite Parkway History
Downtown Expressway History
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)
Acronyms for the Virginia state highway and transportation department. VDH
from 1927 to 1974. Railroad, aviation and public transportation was added in 1974,
and the Department became VDHT. The Department became VDOT in 1986.
-> VDH - Virginia Department of Highways
-> VDHT - Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation
-> VDOT - Virginia Department of Transportation
Copyright © 1997-2009 by Scott Kozel. All rights reserved. Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.
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By Scott M. Kozel, Roads to the Future
(Created 8-14-1997, revised and expanded 7-21-2001, last updated 2-26-2009)