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Clifton's Traffic Nightmare

Some 10,543 vehicles enter and exit Clifton in a single day.

A three-way stop, $200 speeding tickets, even a toll booth — these and other ideas are being seriously considered by the Town of Clifton to deal with its traffic problem.

And the numbers of recent traffic counts tell the tale. The town has only 225 residents yet — mostly due to commuter traffic from Prince William County — some 10,543 vehicles enter and exit Clifton in a single day.

Pendleton Avenue, for example, is just a half-block long with three houses facing the street. Yet its one-day traffic count was 477 vehicles — and some were clocked at 60-64 mph.

A 48-hour count done by Fairfax County police, between Feb. 26-28, revealed 1,239 cars traveling past Mayor Jim Chesley's home at the intersection of Main Street and Dell Avenue. "When I moved here in 1976, I'd sit on my porch and see a pickup truck [go by] and maybe horseback riders," said Chesley. "Now I've got 1,239 cars."

Statistics also showed four cars flying past The Hermitage Inn on Main Street at 75 mph, and this, too, caught Chesley's attention. In March, he asked the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to help Clifton calm its traffic, and he's recommended solutions to the county Office of Transportation.

"All the speeding is driving us crazy," he said. "This is a small town — mostly residential — built around a main street with homes within 20 feet of the road. People like to walk here, but they call me up and say they can't walk across the street. So now we have [traffic] volume and speeding issues and — if I've got to put up with the volume — by God, I'm gonna slow 'em down."

Actually, Clifton's been plagued by cut-through traffic for years, but Chesley and Del. James K. "Jay" O'Brien (R-40th), had Clifton Road designated a Virginia scenic byway and were able to erect signs advising truckers to stay off the back roads. Chesley kept the Yates Ford Bridge from becoming three lanes (and hence more attractive to Prince William motorists) and he and local residents prevented Yates Ford Road from being widened and obtained traffic-calming measures on Maple Branch Road.

All these things helped; but now Clifton's traffic is again booming because of residential development elsewhere. It's not quite as bad as in November 1993 when 16,220 cars a day poured through the town. But with the amount of vehicles coming through each day totaling nearly 47 times the number of town residents — Clifton definitely has a problem.

Three-way stops helped slow down the traffic somewhat, but also resulted in mile-long backups in the morning. And in the evening, traffic stalls from the stop sign at School and Main streets to Compton and Popes Head roads — two miles away.

"People are backed up over the top of the railroad tracks and, at times, cars sit on the tracks without moving — and that's a dangerous situation," said Chesley. So he's asked VDOT to investigate erecting an electronic sign to warn these motorists of impending trains.

During the morning rush, many commuters try racing by each other. Instead of coming down Clifton Road, taking School Street and turning right on Main, they'll stay straight on Clifton Road — which becomes Pendleton for one block. Then they'll speed down Pendleton and take a left on Chapel Road and a right on Main to skip the three-way stop at Main and School streets.

"They're only saving a couple seconds — and scaring the hell out of people with their excessive speeding," said Chesley. "At night, they do the opposite to avoid that stop." In response, Pendleton residents have asked the Town Council to have their street made one way — opposite of how it's now used during rush hour. Clifton is also asking VDOT to consider doing likewise on School and Water streets.

A VDOT traffic count, Oct. 17-18, showed 8,365 cars coming into and leaving Clifton via Clifton Road and Pendleton. The town speed limit is 25 mph but, in the morning, 388 cars exceeded 35 mph there, and 12 traveled between 40-74 mph. In the evening, 50 cars sped between 35-59 mph.

"Pendleton is not much bigger than a football field in length, but people are hauling," said Chris O'Donnell, who's lived there since 1997. "They come flying down and, since Pendleton is lower than Clifton Road, speeders will catch air and land near my driveway. And in the evening, the kids in the neighborhood Rollerblade or ride bikes here. It's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt."

Also during the October traffic count, 10,543 vehicles entered and exited the town on Main Street by the Heart in Hand restaurant. Some 273 cars on the one-block stretch between the restaurant and the railroad tracks were clocked at speeds between 35 and greater than 75 mph.

Still another VDOT traffic count revealed 10,094 vehicles going in and out of town via Main Street at the Clifton Road/Newman Road intersection. Of that number, 43 drove at 50 mph and higher — with 10 speeding at 70 mph and higher.

"All these numbers mean there's a terrific speeding problem," said Chesley. And at Tuesday's Town Council meeting, Capt. Dennis Wilson of the Fair Oaks District Station discussed enforcement problems due to lack of manpower, plus no road shoulders — thereby preventing police from monitoring and pulling over speeders.

Meanwhile, Chesley has talked with the Town Council, Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), VDOT and the county Office of Transportation about possible solutions and has presented several ideas (see sidebar).

"I'm concerned about the safety of my citizens and pedestrians," he said. "This is a nice town, and I don't want it destroyed by traffic. I'm sick and tired of all the speeding. I want Clifton to be a place where people can walk across the street without being in fear for their lives — and a place where, if you speed, you'll get a ticket. I just want people to obey the law."