Commuters, Speeders Plague Clifton Residents

Commuters, Speeders Plague Clifton Residents

Marc Zuffa has lived on Old Yates Ford Road in Clifton almost two years and says he sees accidents there every day and near-accidents every hour-and-a-half.

"The speed limit around Old Yates Ford and Henderson roads is 10 mph, and people are doing 45," he said. "I've got more car parts in my yard than I know what to do with. They smash into my trees, and the parts fall off; there's a Toyota Camry bumper in my yard now, from a couple days ago."

Whether in town or on the outskirts, Clifton's residents are plagued by speeding motorists, and they're angry about the disregard shown them and their town. "It's commuter traffic out of control," said Zuffa. "It's a free-for-all. You hear people skidding all day long."

Because of topography alone, it's a dangerous intersection, with motorists traveling on either road unable to see each other until converging. Add in speeders, and things become even scarier. Said Zuffa: "We're afraid someone's going to get killed out there."

Tired of cars careening into his front yard, he put cinder blocks around it, but VDOT objected, so he built a fence. Then he had to put up 4-foot-high metal barriers with reflectors to keep drivers from hitting the fence.

"It's like a NASCAR race out there, and people used my yard for a passing lane until I built the fence," said Zuffa. "The only time you see a cop is when you call and [report] a wreck — and they come two hours later. On weekends we get motorcycles going 70-80 mph. They're racing up Henderson, and they know they can because there are no cops. We need police to enforce the speed limits — it's just freaking dangerous out here."

Just ask Edmund and Yueh-Mei Rowan and son Carl of Henderson Road. "We get major hits twice a month to our trees along Henderson," said Edmund. Indeed, one of their trees used to stand straight, but now lists at a 45-degree angle from being struck so much.

They live right at the curve, and motorists have been merciless. "The mailbox was knocked down 20 times," said Yueh-Mei. "And the telephone pole had to be moved from one side of the yard to the other, after it was knocked down." She tried putting up a white picket fence, but gave up after it was hit four times.

"I lost a Siberian Husky out here," said Carl. "The woman who hit him returned his collar, but never even apologized. This is our neighborhood — there are driveways and families here. If we drove through their neighborhoods like this, they'd call the police on us."

The way Old Yates Ford is designed, he explained, motorists think the road goes straight — but it keeps curving and, by the time they realize it, they've lost control. "People aren't alerted to the danger of the curve," added Edmund. "There's got to be blinking signs to warn them."

"I don't want someone to die here," said Yueh-Mei. "I made it ugly by putting up reflectors, hoping people would see them and slow down." Her son said accidents occur there on a weekly basis. "You can hear the honking of horns and the screeching of tires," he said. "We've seen people picking themselves up and driving off, after hitting our tree and being spit out of their window. And the motorcycles that wreck here, you can forget about them."

Yueh-Mei couldn't get anyone from VDOT to come and see. And in the past, when a VDOT representative has gone out, he said he didn't want a three-way stop there because it would impede rush-hour traffic.

Zuffa noted that trucks aren't supposed to be on Henderson or Old Yates Ford unless delivering locally, but VDOT hasn't put up enforcement signs. He suggests "speed humps everywhere. All of us have kids here, and [the motorists] go so fast, they can't stop."

And the daily commuters are relentless. "At 6 a.m., it's like someone opened the flood gates," said Zuffa. "It takes us 10 minutes to get out of our driveway in the morning." And many throw beer cans and other debris in their yards. On Saturday, for example, the Rowans found box cutters and an empty beer bottle in their yard.

And any sign VDOT puts up only lasts a week or two before being creamed by a commuter, say residents. One woman along Henderson not only receives flying vehicle pieces in her yard regularly, but currently has a downed 35-mph sign sprawled on her grass, after a speeder smacked into and broke its wooden post.

But the traffic volume especially concerns her. "In the morning it can be a nightmare — and God forbid you have to go anywhere at 5:30 p.m.," she said. "I have tire tracks in my yard; people frequently come into our yard after hitting the Rowans' mailbox, next door."

She and her husband thought they were leaving city traffic when they moved to Clifton two years ago, but no such luck. "VDOT's suggested putting in shoulders and widening [the road], but I think it'll only encourage people to go faster," she said. "It's scary for the six houses who live on this curve."

Some neighbors believe rumble strips would help, but others say their noise would wake them at night. And Zuffa, like Mayor Jim Chesley, favors a toll booth. "It would be awesome," he said. "It's my dream to have one in front of my house — it would definitely help."

Giff Hampshire, 78, a Newman Road resident since 1955, remembers when Clifton's roads were only traveled by townsfolk or people en route "to see the local bootlegger." But development's brought drastic change, he said, and frantic commuters are exceeding 60-70 mph on his 35-mph road.

"They have to slow down before turning from northbound to eastbound Newman Road to connect with Colchester Road," he explained. "[Instead], they crash through the fences and have accidents. It's a 15-mph turn, but most people disregard it. My wife has been hit twice, trying to get out of our driveway."

In-town residents also suffer. Sandy Levy, on the corner of School Street and Pendleton Avenue, says morning commuters "come roaring down Pendleton. They need another bridge across the Occoquan and another way to get up Route 28, without going through Clifton."

"A toll booth would be neat," he continued. I thought about putting out those little pointy spikes in the road. I wouldn't do it — but I've thought about it."

Marilyn Barton's home backs up to Pendleton, and she says traffic volume has quadrupled in the 20 years she's lived there. Worrying about the children crossing Main to catch their school bus at Main and Dell Avenue while drivers race by, resident Mike Booth wants a stop sign there: "In winter, when it's dark and cars are speeding downhill, the road bends at Dell, and a car could midjudge the turn and go up on the sidewalk where the kids are."

A Main Street resident for 31 years, Town Councilman Wayne Nickum said, "People cuss at you, give you the finger and won't let you into traffic. They're coming through a public road in our town, but they have no courtesy."

Someone's already smashed his van in front of his house, and children cross Main Street to reach the park behind his home. "The town's ultimate concern is safety for the residents," said Nickum, also lamenting the fumes and dust from all the vehicles. "We've got to figure out how to put in impediments."