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Expansive Police Driving Course Completed

Exterior rendering of Virginia State Police Driver Training Facility
This 52,000 sq ft building at the facility houses classrooms, a dormitory, and a vehicle maintenance facility. © Dewberry, Dave Huh, photographer

The Virginia State Police are about to open a new training facility that includes miles of complex road courses and a state-of-the-art skid pan.

January 24, 2013—The number of high-speed police pursuits outside the small town of Blackstone, Virginia, will skyrocket soon, but the residents have nothing to fear. The chases will take place on the rolling, closed courses of the new Virginia State Police driver training complex near Fort Pickett.

The $27.5-million facility is located on an expansive, undulating 680-acre site, complete with ravines, streams, and wetlands. The site was originally a remote part of Fort Pickett. Before the project could begin in earnest, engineers had to test for land mines remaining from training exercises during World War II, according to Kenneth Wagner, a project manager at Dewberry, an architecture and engineering firm headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia. Dewberry designed the facility.

The facility includes elaborate urban and highway driving loops, as well as a state-of-the-art skid pan area to simulate driving in heavy rain conditions. A 52,000 sq ft building houses classrooms, a dormitory, and a vehicle maintenance facility.

The skid pan is a large polished-concrete pad, sloped to facilitate water flow over the surface. A 50 horsepower pump supplies up to 3,000 gallons of water per minute from a dedicated well on-site. The water is collected and recycled via a large overflow trench, which the pump can fill in less than 30 seconds. 

 Virginia State Police Driver Training course, which includes a variety of intersections, complete with street and traffic signs

The course includes a variety of intersections, complete with street
and traffic signs. © Dewberry, Dave Huh, photographer

“People can’t wait around for this thing to work,” Wagner explains. “The drivers get to train in wet, hydroplane conditions. There was another one of these done in Tennessee. That’s where we got the idea for this. And we’ve put stand-up sprinklers that will spray the windshields and other portions of the car in another area of that skid pan course.”

The facility will accommodate 120 officers at a time for two weeks of training. The Virginia State Police expect to send about 3,000 officers through the facility every year for intensive driver training at the highly specialized facility.

“The urban area is a series of blocks,” Wagner explains. “There is a railroad crossing. There is an alleyway. There is also a traffic circle, and a cul de sac, and they have multiple intersections. There is a road that crosses diagonally across blocks that you come to at a five-point intersection.”

“The highway course is a 4.5 mi track,” Wagner says. The course includes portions that are essentially interstate highways, as well as winding country roads. “They also have an off-road portion—just minimum grading with the trees cut down. They may have to respond on dirt roads.”  

The highway course has sections with concrete pavement, and sections with an asphalt surface to help officers master the different surfaces. Dewberry included a faux-concrete bridge on an asphalt curved road to duplicate the experience of transitioning from one surface to another.

Virginia State Police Driver Training course, which includes small gravel roads

Small gravel roads were included to simulate the most rural areas
troopers are likely to encounter. © Dewberry, Dave Huh, photographer

Wagner says that although the roads won’t be subjected to heavy traffic and large trucks, they were built to facilitate a long life span. The engineers largely followed prevailing highway geometry standards on the course, but tweaked a few turns and grades to simulate older highways built before current standards were implemented.

“In some areas we took liberty and maybe tightened up a turn, tightened up a radius, did a little bit of maneuvering with your super elevation,” Wagner says. “We didn’t go to extremes. We were trying to adhere as much as we could. But there are some elements that we put in that would only enhance their experience out there.”

The facility has taken decades to develop, hampered by funding concerns. Initial planning in the 1990s was for a multiagency facility shared with fire and rescue responders. The urban facility was envisioned then to include rudimentary buildings for fire and rescue training.  

The project moved to a rough grading stage in 2005, before another funding shortfall shelved it. That start created a challenge for the team in the form of construction overflow ponds that became designated wetlands in the ensuing years.

Construction of the Virginia State Police Driver Training Facility, located in Blackstone, Virginia

With the construction of the facility in Blackstone, Virginia State
Police now have their first dedicated driver-training facility.
© Dewberry, Dave Huh, photographer

When the Virginia State Police were awarded $44 million via a federal lawsuit involving misbranding and fraudulent marketing of a prescription pain medication, they decided to use the funds to complete the driver training course, and selected Dewberry to rework the project as a police facility.

The site presented several geotechnical challenges. Large rocks were prevalent near the surface and actually prompted the elimination of a few intersections. The money saved by that change helped fund the skid pan, Wagner says.

The impromptu wetlands prompted mitigation efforts, including the purchase of wetland and stream credits from a wetland mitigation bank approved of by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We could not remove those features,” Wagner says. “We had to design around those features that were only put in temporarily for the first construction, even though we don’t need them.”

The facility, which is in the final stages of tweaking, gives the Virginia State Police their first dedicated facility. Before this, officers were trained at rented facilities.


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