Judy Beattie has operated the Hunter Mill Country Day School on Hunter Mill Road since 1978. In the mornings, she helps take preschoolers from their parent’s cars and into the school. Many times, she said, she’ll notice tanker trucks full of gasoline whizzing by on the narrow, two-lane road. “We have a school and school buses. If one of those hits, we’ve had it,” she said.
Beattie is a member of a group that has been working to ban the trucks, carrying hazardous material (HAZMAT for short) from using Hunter Mill Road.
At least some of the trucks using Hunter Mill Road are coming from the fuel depot in the Pickett Industrial Park on Pickett Road in the City of Fairfax and going up Hunter Mill to get to the Dulles Toll Road.
“Hunter Mill Road is a shortcut. We don’t use it a whole lot,” said Bill Holtzman of the Holtzman Corp., based in Mount Jackson in Shenandoah County. Holtzman is not the only company that uses Hunter Mill Road. His trucks, he said, are going from the fuel depot to businesses in Leesburg.
Holtzman said that he sympathizes with residents pushing for the ban. “Everybody wants to live on a road where there’s no traffic,” Holtzman said.
Holtzman said that his trucks have every safety precaution possible, have never had an accident where gas has been involved, and that he has some drivers who have driven more than 3 million miles without an accident. “To get your HAZMAT license is a big deal,” he said, referring to the special license truckers need to drive fuel trucks.
Last year, Del. Steve Shannon (D-35) and Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34) had worked to introduce the ban in Richmond. They were told that such an initiative should come from the local level, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors asked VDOT to study the situation.
VDOT’s study was released on Jan. 3, and it found that Hunter Mill Road is an acceptable route for trucks carrying hazardous material. The study took into account factors such as population density, emergency response times, sensitive environmental features and the presence of special populations such as schools or parks along the road and to a distance of a half-mile on either side of it. It compared these factors to two other possible routes and in each case found that the Hunter Mill Road route generated the lowest risk.
“That report is a little defective,” said Bruce Bennett of the Vienna-area during a Jan. 7 town hall meeting that Shannon conducted. “That report makes it appear as if it’s the most appropriate route,” said Bennett, chair of the Hunter Mill Road Traffic Calming Committee.
“What I questioned was the two alternate routes,” Shannon said. Both alternates start and end at either end of Hunter Mill Road and do not take into consideration that few if any trucks would actually start or end their trips there. One alternate in particular hypothesizes that the trucks would take Chain Bridge Road, through the Town of Vienna and into Tysons Corner to access Route 7. Shannon says a far more logical and likely route would be along I-66 or Route 50 to the Beltway and then up to Route 7.
VDOT'S ANALYSIS has other errors. For example, it dramatically undercounts the number of “special populations” within the Hunter Mill corridor. These are defined as “groups that are particularly sensitive to hazardous material releases, may be difficult to evacuate, are highly concentrated, or are outdoors.”
While the study says that two schools are located within a half-mile of Hunter Mill Road, at least nine schools (Children’s World, Hunter Mill Country Day, Montessori, Northern Virginia Friends, Sunrise Valley Elementary, Fairfax Christian, Oakton Elementary, Flint Hill Lower School and the Edlin School) are located in that area.
The study states that there are no public areas. The Washington & Old Dominion Trail and Cross-County Trail both cross Hunter Mill Road at the same point. Difficult Run Stream Valley and Lake Fairfax parks are both within a half mile of the road. The unbuilt but fully funded Oakton Library is on Hunter Mill Road, and the unfunded but planned Oakton Community Park, which may be built with private funds within a few years, is also on Hunter Mill.
The study does not seem to take into account the Sunrise Assisted Living facility on Hunter Mill Road.
Shannon has requested VDOT to do another study, using one of the routes he suggested and will likely ask them to take into account factors such as the additional special populations.
If the new study finds similar results, Shannon said he may introduce legislation to enforce the ban. “I do have a bill prepared,” he said.