The First Part of a New Interstate Highway is Opened in Virginia

July 15, 1975

In Virginia, the first segment of Interstate 195 (I-195) in the state capital of Richmond was opened. I-195 has also become known as the Beltline Expressway. This 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) highway is a spur route of Interstate 95. Within the Interstate Highway System, a spur route is a short highway serving as a branch of a major highway in a large metropolitan area; generally, spur routes are designated with three-digit numbers and the last two of those digits consist of the number of the “parent” highway.

Plans for the highway that ultimately became I-195 can be traced to 1959, when the Richmond city government hired an engineering firm to conduct a major study on building such a route. This study resulted in plans for an expressway that, in 1966, was included in a proposed network of expressways for the region. This planned Beltline Expressway was originally intended to be constructed by the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (now the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority) as a toll road, but all of that changed in 1969 when U.S. Transportation Secretary John Volpe approved a  request for funding to build that route as a toll-free Interstate highway instead.

With that expressway being designated as part of the Interstate Highway System, the Virginia Department of Highways assumed responsibility for building it. (The Virginia Department of Highways was reorganized in 1974 as the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation [VDHT], which was renamed the Virginia Department of Transportation in 1986.) Construction on I-195 began in May 1971.

The dedication ceremonies for the first portion of I-195 were held “in a drizzle that threatened to become a downpour at any moment,” according to VDHT’s internal news publication entitled Bulletin. These ceremonies, which were sponsored by the Central Richmond Association, specifically took place at the north end of the new highway’s bridge crossing over the Acca Yards of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P). Those attending the ceremonies included Virginia Governor Mills Godwin, who used the opportunity to talk about the importance of spur routes within the Interstate Highway System.

Godwin said, “This is a section of the highway that was added to the Interstate system when it became apparent that speeding our highway traffic between cities with four-lane divided highways was only a part of the job, and that we would have to facilitate the movement through and around our cities if it was to take on its full potential. In this instance, we have an Interstate highway segment carrying traffic to and from the southside of Richmond and connecting eventually both with arterial highways east and west and with the Downtown Expressway [Virginia State Route 195 in Richmond].”

The ceremonies also included Godwin and Pamela Brooks, a VDHT employee who had been selected as that year’s Miss Highway, jointly cutting a red ribbon to formally open I-195 to traffic. (The annual Miss Highway competition was permanently canceled the following year.) After the ribbon was snipped, a motorcade transporting dignitaries and other attendees proceeded slowly southward on the newly opened route.

Four days later, another portion of I-195 was inaugurated. The final part of I-195 – a 0.5-mile (0.8-kilometer) segment connecting the route with the Downtown Expressway – made its public debut in February of the following year.

A 1970s photo of an Amtrak train in the median of I-195

I-195 has the added distinction of being the first highway in Virginia with trains running on its median strip. That north-south corridor in Richmond had been selected by RF&P back in 1888 as a key freight transportation route. This route, now situated on the median strip for I-195, is currently utilized by CSX Transportation for its freight trains. The route is also used by Amtrak for its passenger train services.

Photo Credits: A view of I-195 just south of Virginia State Route 197, taken by Famartin (licensed under Creative Commons); an Amtrak train in the median of I-195, taken by Hunter Desportes (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

For more information on I-195 in Virginia, please check out http://www.roadstothefuture.com/I195_VA.html

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