More than 50 residents of the Old Mill Road area assembled at the South County Government Center last Thursday night to press their case for maintaining a 25 mile per hour speed limit on the heavily traveled connector between Routes 235 and 1.
Noting that there are no viable shoulders or sidewalks along the road from Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (Rt.235) to Lukens Lane, speaker after speaker insisted that to raise the speed limit to 35 mph "is to invite a fatality."
The public meeting was chaired by State Senator Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36) and State Delegate Kristen J. Amundson (D-44). Explaining the procedure for changing speed designations and answering citizen questions was Don Ostrander, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), senior engineer. He was joined by Guan Xu, VDOT area engineer for southern Fairfax County.
Puller, in opening the hour-long discussion, noted that because of redistricting both she and Amundson now have all of Old Mill Road in their respective districts. It is also within the jurisdiction of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland.
Ostrander explained, "If you want a speed limit on any road analyzed all we need is a request from a citizen. There is no detailed procedure." He noted VDOT had received a request to take the limit back up to 35 mph.
"Once we get a request we do a detailed analysis. This involves, among other things, engineering, number of driveways, shoulders, sidewalks, and potential pedestrian/vehicle conflict," Ostrander said. "That information then goes to the state traffic engineer and finally to the commissioner with a recommendation."
HE ADMITTED, "Old Mill Road lacks shoulders and sidewalks, has many ditches, and lots of driveways. I drove it two days ago and encountered pedestrians walking on the road."
Ostrander emphasized, "The speed limit has been lowered twice in the past two years. We have no plan to restudy the road at this time."
He explained that a request to lower the speed limit to 25 was initiated in May, 1999. VDOT collected data through August of that year. New speed limit signs were posted in May, 2000.
One speaker explained that there is a heavy volume of traffic on the portion of Old Mill Road between Route 235 and Lukens Lane because many people use it as a cut-through to Route 1. "If the speed is increased to 35 mph, they know they can go 44 and not get a ticket," he said.
Another suggestion was to add speed bumps or speed tables. Ostrander pointed out that was not within the jurisdiction of VDOT. "They fall under the county's traffic calming plan." Puller noted they would have to go to their County Supervisor Gerald Hyland, to get speed bumps considered.
That request was countered by a resident who emphasized, "When you buy into a certain area you know what the situation is. I would rather see more enforcement of the speed limit than the installation of speed bumps. What ever the limit is - enforce it."
AT THE CONCLUSION of the Q&A period, Puller said, "VDOT has done their job. If you want more stop signs or other traffic calming devices there is a procedure to be followed. You need to talk to your supervisor." Hyland was not in attendance.
Puller urged the various civic associations to formulate a common request, both for any traffic calming devices and to have police conduct more surveillance. This concerted procedure was endorsed by Hyland following the meeting.
"The citizens have a right to make a request for stop signs or whatever, by merely sending me a letter indicating that they have a majority of those in the area agreeing with the request. That's why it is good to come through the civic associations," Hyland said.
"I will take their request to the Board of Supervisors. VDOT has changed their procedures and will usually agree with the petition once it is endorsed by the Board of Supervisors," he explained.
The only additional action by VDOT, agreed to by Ostrander, was to consider lowering the speed limit to 15 mph at the intersection of Old Mill Road and Lukens Lane. He stated that due to the road configuration at that point it presented a particular hazard.
The majority of the audience was in favor of keeping the 25 mph limit. However, some argued that it should be returned to 35 mph because the lower speed was unrealistic and could be causing more of a hazard by frustrating drivers. Old Mill Road on the opposite side of Route 235 has a 35 mph speed limit.