October 22, 2014

Williamsburg Grand Illumination Video

I’m back in Williamsburg, Virginia today finishing up a three day tour to Colonial Williamsburg, featuring the Grand Illumination held at the beginning of each December to kick off the Christmas season celebrations here. I’ve seen the Grand Illumination fireworks before, but this year’s seemed better than ever.

Santa came to my house earlier than usual, this year, and left me my requested present — a new video camera — just in time to bring along on this Williamsburg trip! Nice of him, wasn’t it? Anyway, thanks to the new camera, I was inspired to video some of the fireworks. Here is my very first video posted on YouTube — edited down to about 5 minutes of the nearly 30 minute show. Hope you enjoy it!

Virginia Increases Interstate Speed Limits

I just returned last night from a three-day trip with a school group to Williamsburg, VA. I was surprised to find new speed limit signs being posted on most of the interstate highways in Virginia.

The speed limit has been increased from 65 to 70 MPH in the rural and less populated areas of the state. That includes much of I-95, I-495 around Richmond, and I-64, which I saw first-hand this week, as well as other interstates in Virginia.

The current governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, the same one who had made a campaign promise to reopen Virginia’s closed rest areas, had also promised to increase the speed limit to 70 MPH on most of the Interstate system in Virginia. He has followed through on both promises, and the somewhat controversial legislation was passed accordingly earlier this year effecting the speed limit increase.

“The increase in the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph in rural and less populated areas of the state will help Virginians arrive at their destinations quicker and safer and will speed the delivery of goods and services throughout the commonwealth,” according to a statement from the governor.

Most motorcoach companies have speed governors set at 70 MPH or less on their coaches, so it’s not likely to make a significant difference to motorcoach passengers, except they’re likely to see more cars flying past the windows. Of course, that was already happening with few automobile drivers limiting their speed to 65 MPH on the interstates.

Virginia to Reopen Closed Rest Stops

Good news for tour groups, truck drivers, and tourists traveling through the state of Virginia: Virginia’s new governor, Bob McDonnell, has announced that all 19 of Virginia’s closed rest stops and visitor centers will reopen over the next few months. The state had closed them in July 2009 in an effort to reduce the deficit in their state budget. McDonnell, elected last November, had promised during his campaign to reopen the rest stops. Not surprisingly, state tourism, as well as Virginia’s public image, was hurt significantly by the closures. Click here to read McDonnell’s official announcement.

Four of the closed rest stops are scheduled to reopen by February 17th, 2010; eight more will reopen by March 17th; and the rest by April 15th.

Click here for a PDF map showing all of Virginia’s rest stops and welcome centers, both those now open and the ones scheduled to reopen.

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The Case of the Disappearing Rest Stops

Virginia Rest Area, Mile 54 South, I-81, one of the rest areas to be closed July 21, 2009.

Virginia Rest Area, Mile 54 South, I-81, one of the rest areas to be closed July 21, 2009.


With the downturn in the economy, states across the country are experiencing budget crises, and looking for ways to cut expenses anywhere they can. And many are looking for quick fixes — short term savings regardless of the long term consequences. One of those shortsighted “fixes” affects all of us who travel, drivers and passengers: the closing of state operated rest stops.

States are discovering they can save millions of dollars, in some cases, by closing interstate rest areas that produce little or no direct income. Virginia, for example, is closing 18 interstate rest areas next week (July 21, 2009), and one of their welcome centers on I-66 in September, for a reported savings of almost $9 million annually. Maine is closing two rest areas on I-95 to save about $700,000. Vermont has already temporarily closed four rest areas, and is considering permanently closing six rest areas, for a savings of $1 million annually. Louisiana has closed 24 of its 34 rest areas since 2000, four of them last year. Colorado, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Arizona and others are also considering closing highway rest areas.

One of Virginia's rest areas on I-81, closed 7/21/09 for budgetary reasons.

One of Virginia's rest areas on I-81, closed 7/21/09 for budgetary reasons.

While states may be saving a few dollars short term, it comes at the expense of both the traveling public and the local economy. The loss of 24/7 toilets at rest stops is just the most obvious loss. Now travelers will need to exit the highway to find facilities, relying on businesses — at their expense — to provide facilities. Some of those businesses will benefit from the increased traffic, but many aren’t prepared and can’t handle the increase. Most of them are not open 24/7, so travel times will be affected. Very few of them can handle animals, so travel with pets will be much more difficult, too. My guess is that we’re going to see a lot more cars parked alongside the road, both people and pets relieving themselves along the highway, the most dangerous place they could possibly be.

And what about buses? Fifty passengers descending on McDonald’s to use the restrooms may be slow but workable, at least occasionally … but what about multiple buses? Few small businesses can handle the parking needs of a motorcoach, let alone a sudden crowd of 50 or more people arriving at the same time. Trucks will have similar issues when it comes to parking needs. Rest stops have provided them a safe, off-the-road parking spot to catch a nap or just take a safety break. With more trucks parked on the shoulders of the highway, everyone’s safety is jeopardized. Studies have shown that the greater the distance between rest stops, the higher the truck accident rate.

Many small attractions in communities across the country have not been able to afford advertising other than the brochure racks in rest stops. Even larger attractions benefit significantly from the advertising opportunities at rest areas. Some will experience significantly fewer visitors from the loss of exposure and may ultimately close.

So short term, yes, states save a few dollars by closing rest areas. But it seems very shortsighted to me, with a very high potential cost down the road, from both an economic and safety standpoint. What do you think? Add your comments below.

UPDATE 7-28-09 — Here’s a link to a complete list of Virginia’s rest areas (from Virginia DOT) showing both open and closed rest areas that may be helpful:

http://virginiadot.org/travel/map-rest-area.asp

Luray Caverns, Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Luray, VA

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Luray Caverns, in Luray, Virginia, are the largest and most visited caverns in the eastern US. It’s a great destination for groups of all kinds. In addition to the caverns, next door is the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, an outstanding collection of antique cars, trucks, bicycles and a couple of other modes of transportation. You can purchase admission to both the caverns and the museum on one ticket. Although the caverns are the claim to fame here (and rightly so), I highly recommend the [Read more...]

Monticello, Charlottesville, VA

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I had a group of 8th grade students to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, VA yesterday. The group had an 8 AM appointment, first one of the day, and had been instructed to be there 30 minutes early. That meant leaving our hotel really early, but at the direction of our conscientious group leader, we dutifully arrived on time as instructed. And guess what … the [Read more...]

Construction at Mount Vernon Drop-off Completed

Drop off area at the Mount Vernon Circle

Drop off area at the Mount Vernon Circle

If you had a bus to Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home in Alexandria, VA) last summer, you may remember that the circle where you normally drop passengers was closed for construction and you had to drop at the front end of the bus parking area. I’m not sure when construction was finished — today is the first I’ve been back since last summer — but it’s completed now. A raised median strip separates the left and right lanes, thru traffic in the left lane, bus dropoffs in the right lane, and ne’er shall the twain meet — theoretically, anyway. Bus parking is fully restored along the highway as it was previously.