Local residents were alarmed, three years ago, when a couple accidents occurred within two months of each other on Pleasant Valley Road. Parents became even more upset after a dump truck and a schoolbus full of children grazed each other on that same road.
A truck ban was eventually put into place there, but that didn't solve the problem of three dangerous curves on that road. Now, thanks to Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), those curves will be fixed.
"We don't have the money to do all of Pleasant Valley Road — the point is to get rid of these three areas that are, literally, too narrow for a schoolbus and a truck to pass," said Frey. "[In that accident], they were going the speed limit and driving safely, but they just hit a spot that [wasn't wide enough] and their [outside] mirrors smashed together."
Details of the project were presented last Wednesday, May 21, at a public meeting at Frey's office. Besides him, those present included Del. Gary Reese (R-67th), Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th), VDOT representatives Mike Estes and Jim Zeller, Bill Keech of the Westfield Business Owners Association, plus residents Ron Smith and Pam Cave of Chantilly's Pleasant Valley community.
Estes, in charge of the preliminary engineering, estimated it would cost $2 million total for the engineering, land-acquisition and construction necessary to widen the curves and make them safer. The money comes from the mainly federally funded Hazardous Elimination and Safety Program.
"I worked with VDOT and got the Board to endorse allocating [this] money to do these projects," said Frey. "It's taken a couple years, unfortunately, to get where we are, but it's good to finally get it done and, hopefully, it'll take care of the problems there."
* Curve 1 is just south of Pleasant Valley Golf Course, between it and Braddock Road. It's basically a hairpin curve and is too sharp and tight.
* Curve 2 is between Braddock Road and Elk Lick Run Creek, where Braddock Road crests into a small hill.
* Curve 3 is between the creek and Virginia Run Elementary. Both curves 2 and 3 curve at hill crests, causing sight-distance problems. Vegetation near the road also makes it difficult to see.
"The lanes are 10 1/2-11-feet wide now, and we'd make them 12 feet wide with 6-foot-wide paved shoulders," said Estes. "We're softening the curves and putting in shoulders to help the sight distance and give [drivers] room for recovery and errors."
He said VDOT looks at "some of the worst accident locations in the Northern Virginia District, each year," and Pleasant Valley Road qualified. VDOT also realized that a relatively small amount of money could fix a significant problem, so it moved forward on this project.
"It's a safety issue — we want to reduce the accidents," explained Estes. "On Pleasant Valley Road — between Route 29 to the south and Route 50 to the north — there have been 164 accidents and three fatalities since 1998. I think that speaks volumes."
VDOT will also improve the ditches and culverts, where needed, to improve drainage at all three locations. It wants to advertise the work contract in July, award it in the fall and begin construction after school ends in June 2004. It hopes to complete the bulk of the work in 60 days.
* The job would be done in two stages. The first stage would fix Curve 1. For some 30 days, Pleasant Valley Road from Braddock to Route 50 would be closed to through traffic, but open to local residents.
* Stage two would involve Curves 2 and 3, with Pleasant Valley closed from Braddock Road to Virginia Run. Work would start in late July 2004 and be finished before school begins.
During that time, traffic would be detoured out Stonecroft Boulevard onto Poplar Tree Road, out to Stone Road and onto Route 29. VDOT says, if it doesn't close Pleasant Valley during the project, the work would take about seven months to complete. Otherwise, it can be finished in about 60 days total.
"VDOT wants to gather input from residents about the road closing, but nobody objected to it at the meeting," said resident Smith. He said a school-system representative noted that some schoolbuses use that route during summer school, but said they could accommodate for the road closure.
"It seems like they have a pretty good plan," said Smith. "Obviously, it's a narrow road and, when you take a curve on it, there's a greater chance that someone will cross the line and there could be an accident — and people do go pretty fast out there."
Pleasant Valley's speed limit there is 35 mph, and one resident feared that, if the curves were straightened out, people would speed more. However, the curves will remain — they just won't be as sharp.
Pfc. Vinnie DarConte with the Sully District Police Station said police currently have nowhere to make traffic stops on Pleasant Valley because there's no place to pull people over. But once the work is done, he said, they'll be able to set up radar in several places to deter speeders.
Others worried that after the curves were fixed, the truck ban might be removed and/or the speed limit there would be increased, but Estes says neither is the case. And he said VDOT has no plans to increase the road's capacity.
VDOT wants to receive citizen feedback on this project by mid-June; call Frey's office at 703-814-7100. Added Smith: "I think everybody [at the meeting] thought that taking out some of those sharp curves is a good idea to make it a safer road."