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Rt. 9 Fatality Spurs Calls For Safety Improvements

Margaret Morton

Oct 10, 2001 -- A fatal crash at the intersection of Rt. 662 and Rt. 9 last Friday during the Waterford Fair has spurred renewed calls for a light at that intersection and for increased safety measures along the busy Rt. 9 corridor.

Elizabeth S. Burton, 29, of Herndon, driving a 2000 Ford Windstar, was turning east from the Rt. 662 stop sign at Rt. 9 when she pulled into the path of a westbound 1998 Volvo dump truck driven by Anthony J. Dix, of Charles Town, WV. The truck struck the van, killing Bonnie M. Stewart, 59, who was a rear seat passenger on the driver�s side of the minivan. The truck veered to the left and went through the fence on the south side of Rt. 9, said Virginia State Police Sgt. A.D. Blankenship. The Loudoun County Sheriff�s Office is doing a motor care inspection on the truck, which is owned by the Lone Star Trucking Company of Purcellville. Four people were transported to Loudoun Hospital Center, including Burton�s three-year-old son Richard. Stewart was pronounced dead at the hospital and the others were released. The investigation is still pending, said Blankenship.

Eleven people have been killed on Loudoun highways this year, including three this month. At the same time in 2000, there had been nine highway fatalities.

The accident has focused attention on the intersection�which is already scheduled to receive a light and major turn lane reconfigurations, for a price tag of $1.2 million�and also has raised questions about sight lines at the Rt. 704/Rt. 9 intersection a mile further west. According to a Loudoun Sheriff�s Office spokesman, there have been four accidents this year at the Rt. 704 and Rt. 9 intersection and two at Rt. 662 and Rt. 9. A later study revealed that there have been up to 12 accidents at those intersections between 1997 and 2000.

Catoctin Supervisor Sally R. Kurtz (D) and Supervisor Eleanore C. Towe (Blue Ridge-D) have long been concerned about safety issues on the heavily traveled corridor which carries commuting traffic from West Virginia into the populous Northern Virginia job market. The scheduled four-laning of Rt. 9 in West Virginia has added to concerns about increased traffic on the corridor which passes through the small historic Loudoun town of Hillsboro miles east of the state border and is fed by numerous side roads as it approaches the interchange with Rt. 7. With the increasing growth patterns in western Loudoun, Rt. 9 is facing increasing pressure not just from commuting traffic from West Virginia but also from its many feeder roads, among them Rt. 704 and Rt. 662.

At the end of last year, Kurtz and Towe pushed for a VDOT safety study to be conducted on the corridor. Kurtz said she received constant complaints about safety at the two intersections.

VDOT engineers in the spring of 2001 released their safety analysis of the period from Jan. 1, 1997 to Sept. 5, 2000. Among their findings: the rate of accidents along the corridor began to rise significantly in 1998; and the highest number of crashes were due to rear-ending, especially on the Rt. 9 stretch from the Rt. 287 intersection to Rt. 704 and again at Rt. 622. The study team also looked at safety measures at various intersections, including tree and brush clearing, improved signage and guardrails, shoulder widths and whether traffic lights were warranted.

The report concluded that traffic signals were warranted at Rt. 9 and Harpers Ferry Road (Rt. 671) and at Rt. 9 and Clarkes Gap Road (Rt. 622 to Waterford). According to the engineers, who factor in accident rates and traffic volumes for their calculations, the Rt. 704 intersection only qualified for a blinking light, better signage and brush clearing as well as relocation of the driveway to the Loudoun County Animal Shelter. That work has been carried out, but a major accident occured there only weeks ago and the sight line to the east when approaching Rt. 9 from the north is still obscured by brush and the large pole on which the new blinking light is located. Drivers wishing to turn east on Rt. 9 from Rt. 704 must proceed some four to five feet beyond the marked white stop line in order to see approaching traffic.

Hobie Mitchel, Commonwealth Transportation Board member, last year recommended that up to $1.2 million in potential funds that would be left over from the CDA-funded Algonkian Park interchange at Dulles Town Center be applied to the Rt. 662/Rt. 9 traffic light and lane reconfigurations. But, a month ago, Kurtz was informed that those funds could not be legally transferred to the Rt. 662 project.

�We need a light, where�s my money?� Kurtz demanded this week.

Mitchel said Wednesday that funds can be transferred from primary road improvements to other primary road projects, �which this is.� However, he said, the problem can be laid at the door of the General Assembly which about a year ago passed legislation stipulating that surpluses in the Priority Transportation Fund could not be used for other projects until all the priority projects are exhausted. �We are looking into other sources of funding�for traffic signals, or safety signals,� he said Wednesday, noting that he was meeting with VDOT officials Thursday to discuss the situation.

Meanwhile Kurtz is left with a growing safety issue and the possibility that money will not be available to deal with the Rt. 662 problem. �It�s pretty sad that getting the necessary safety apparatus in place is such a long process,� she said Wednesday. She said that the Loudoun Board of Supervisors was planning to seek help in resolving the matter through its legislative representatives. Kurtz also said she would like VDOT to look into the possibility of lowering the Rt. 9 speed limit from the intersection with Rt. 7 all the way past Paeonian Springs. With increasing traffic through the area and new businesses, she said more accidents were inevitable. Another bone of contention for Kurtz is the difficulty of getting integrated accident data. �There�s no automated data system�you have to get it from one agency, then another,� she complained.

Local business owner Jane Piercy, whose family runs the Waterford Texaco station on the corner of Rt. 662 and Rt. 9, said she thought it would be important to take a look at changing the existing traffic pattern. �Everything coming into this area is only going to make it worse on this corner and the area in general,� she said, noting that in the 21 years she has been at Waterford Texaco the traffic has steadily worsened.

�Before we have another death, we need to take a real serious look at the corner and the entire Rt. 9 corridor,� Piercy said.

Waterford Fair chairman Fran Holmbraker said Wednesday, that while the Waterford Foundation employs Loudoun County Sheriff�s Office deputies for traffic control within the village, the State Police usually manned the intersection at Rt. 9, particularly when the traffic is heavy. Waterford Foundation Executive Director Eric Breitkreutz said the organization would examine the situation further to see whether closer coordination with police might be helpful and to continue to consult with other town organizations and local supervisors in support of a light and safety improvements at the intersection.

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