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Nan K. Chase column: My 2021 Valentine: Thanks from a happy motorist
Valentine’s Day

Nan K. Chase column: My 2021 Valentine: Thanks from a happy motorist

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This year I won’t be sending a Valentine’s Day card to my husband of 46 years, wonderful though he is. Instead, I’m sending this love letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

That’s right: VDOT.

When Saul and I moved to rural Southwest Virginia a few years ago, midway between the hamlet of Ivanhoe and the old mill town of Fries, I hardly expected superb road maintenance to be one of the top attractions. The grandeur of the woods, yes. The silent night sky glittering with stars, yes. The birdsong and the tumbling creek, yes and yes.

Our house is located just before the “End State Maintenance” sign on a little-traveled dirt road. I was skeptical that, living so far from anywhere, we would see much of the maintenance crews.

How wrong I was. Early on, when a big rain washed away a culvert, the heavy equipment crew showed up just after dawn the next morning to repair the damage.

That meant our elderly neighbors just beyond the washout could get out, or get help, if they needed food or medicine. When I used the amazing VDOT online app to report a large tree branch precariously dangling above the main highway, the offending limb was removed within hours.

Even when there wasn’t a road emergency, maintenance men frequently visited our hollow to smooth the roadbed and keep drainage channels clear. “Just checking!” we heard as they made the rounds, maneuvering massive grader blades with finesse.

And this past summer, during a major repaving project on a main traffic artery, state Route 94, the work was so well-organized that it caused minimal delays, and in a few weeks, the community had a new stretch of road that was smooth as silk and brightly marked for safety.

“Who are these people?” I’ve been wondering. “They seem to be everywhere and know everything that needs fixing.”

Such is the quiet mystery of a well-administered and highly trained workforce. I get a sense, with VDOT’s rigorous schedule of road maintenance and improvements — plus up-to-date technology — that our tax money is being well spent. An ounce of prevention, in this case, is paying off with plenty of cure.

In a time when American states and cities everywhere are struggling to maintain all kinds of services, and in some places are failing dismally, VDOT shows how providing good roads is one of government’s most important functions — and how the department is handling its resources for maximum and evenhanded benefit.

Good roads — safe roads — are the great equalizer. Good roads help everyone, without regard to race or religion or political beliefs.

A well-run transportation system such as Virginia enjoys provides excellent value not just to the grandees of Charlottesville or the vacationers thronging to Virginia Beach, but to farmers, factory workers and woodsmen, and to people who might have neither the time nor the money to spend on pothole-induced car and truck repairs. Good roads make deliveries faster and help the bottom line.

I have lived in states and cities where bone-jarring, axel-bending, tire-puncturing roadways make traveling a misery. In some places the lack of road striping leads to deadly results in dark, rainy conditions. In others there’s inadequate salting and plowing in winter storms. It’s scary and dangerous.

By the numbers, Virginia’s roads are economical and relatively safe. The commonwealth and its cities spend just about the U.S. average on roads, according to recent statistics — less than $750 per person — yet traffic fatalities per 100,000 people are half of those in some states. With nearly 58,000 miles of road to maintain, VDOT oversees the third largest road system in the nation.

In these days of civic turmoil, it’s far too easy to overlook the everyday successes, to take them for granted.

So to all the men and women of VDOT — some 7,500 employees arrayed over nine far-flung districts — thank you. As we sometimes say in the country, “I love you and appreciate you.”

Nan K. Chase is a writer near Fries. Contact her at: nanchase54@gmail.com

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