The sight of an 18-wheeler rumbling past houses on residential Wakefield Chapel Road and Guinea Road may soon become extinct. On Monday, Feb. 27, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to make a request to the Virginia Department of Transportation that the roads both become no-through-truck routes.
The roads, which both stretch north from Braddock Road to Little River Turnpike, have long been alternate routes for trucks coming from the industrial park on Pickett Road in the City of Fairfax. The local roads provide an alternative to Beltway traffic, said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), but trucks driving on them pose a safety risk.
"They don’t need to be doing that," said Bulova. "However many there are, they don’t need to be going there." Neither Wakefield Chapel nor Guinea Roads were built for truck traffic, she said. Although there have never been any major truck accidents on the roads themselves, said Bulova, trucks have overturned on nearby Beltway ramps.
"It would be an even worse situation if that sort of thing happened on Guinea or Wakefield Chapel Road," she said. "People have always feared a truck accident of hazmat spill there."
Mary Ann Beck, who lives off Guinea Road, said she often sees trucks struggling to turn right from Little River Turnpike onto Guinea Road. Sometimes the trucks are so large they have to back up to make the turn, she said.
"The Beltway is meant for big tanker trucks, not these little residential roads," said Beck. It is a safety issue, she said, especially for children walking to the local playground or families and individuals walking to the section of trail that runs through the area.
"It’s a safety issue, and for the people that live on that road, they don’t want big trucks barreling through and rattling the windows," said Beck.
RESIDENTS HAVE BEEN trying for a long time to restrict truck traffic on the two roads, said Jan Hedetniemi, president of the Oak Hill homeowner’s association and the Braddock District Council. Hedetniemi, who lives off Wakefield Chapel Road, said the truck traffic has been an issue for at least seven or eight years.
"In terms of the ability to respond safely, a truck has more to take into account," said Hedetniemi. "Stopping power and distance, jackknifing, overturning. All you need is one incident and you have a tragedy of great proportion."
In the past, however, VDOT’s rules stated that minor arterial roads like Wakefield Chapel or Guinea could not be considered for truck traffic restrictions. A minor arterial road did not fit into the category of collector or local roads that could have truck restrictions on them, said Douglas Hansen, manager of the Residential Traffic Administration Program for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. In October 2003, he said, VDOT changed these rules to include minor arterial roads. To be considered, however, the road must be completely residential.
"Some minor arterial roads in the county are commercial in nature, and for this it has to be totally residential," said Hansen. According to VDOT spokesperson Ryan Hall, "residential" means that per 1, 000 feet of roadway, there are at least 12 dwellings combined on both sides within 150 feet of the road’s center line.
VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board has nine months to act on Fairfax County’s request, said Hall. In its decision, he said, it must consider whether the county can provide reasonable alternate routes for the trucks. The alternate routes must meet engineering standards for truck travel, and must not make it significantly harder for trucks to complete their route. VDOT must also examine the road itself: whether there are schools on the roads, and what impacts the rerouting would have on the alternate route.
"IT’S NOT AS EASY as putting up a sign," said Hall. "You really have to find an viable alternate route." In the case of Wakefield Chapel Road and Guinea Road, said Hansen, a feasible alternate route exists: the Beltway.
At the public hearing Monday, said Bulova, everyone who spoke about the issue came down in favor of though-truck restrictions. She said she has even heard back from other residents who want to lobby VDOT for the restriction.
Hedetniemi said she is also encouraging her residents to write letters to VDOT.
"We are hoping the weight of public opinion on this issue will help out," she said.