The Virginia Department of Transportation is utilizing a computer model to try and prioritize road and highway construction/renovation projects in Hampton Roads. If you've ever experienced the agonizing delays driving from Hampton to Richmond or Norfolk to Williamsburg, you fully appreciate the need for road renovation and expansion. So far, the model has produced some interesting, if not puzzling results. Widening Interstate 64 (I-64), rebuilding Interstate 264 (I-264) interchanges, and expanding the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel received the highest priority, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
The biggest question people are asking is what algorithms and formulations were placed in the model to determine these results. My big question is if the safety of the road/highway was factored in. As someone who was born and raised in Norfolk and now works in Virginia Beach, I want to know that my tax dollars will go to not only expanding roads, but making sure roads, highways, and interchanges with exorbitant accident rates are addressed.
To put the serious accident issue into perspective, 821 Virginians were killed in car accidents in 2008, according to the DMV. Nearly 70,000 people were seriously injured. Over 135,000 traffic wrecks were reported with the highest number of accidents taking place between 6pm and 7pm (i.e. rush hour). On average, one motor vehicle crash occurs every 3.89 minutes. And the most startling statistic of all - roughly two people die every day due to fatal traffic crashes.
I hope the computer model's formula included some type of factorization for traffic accidents. Unfortunately, the reports indicate it's not a top priority considering evacuation safety in areas like Portsmouth and Newport News received only three points in the model's 100 point ranking system.
However, there is a bright spot. Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center is developing a computer tool that will try to simulate the impact of a motor vehicle wreck at a specific location in real time which would help individuals visualize how quickly backups occur and at what locations. This is a good first step, but the end result should include an analysis of the roads, highways, and interchanges with the highest frequency of motor vehicle accidents and an initiative to re-design or revamp those troubled areas.
It'll take roughly a year for the official ODU model to be completed but officials need to move ahead with prioritizing road projects. I hope they keep in mind that improving the roads must include improving the safety of those roads. Our firm has written far too many articles about tragic accidents on I-64 and I-264 so revamping those highways is a good idea, but revamping them with safety in mind is even better.