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Letter to the Editor: True Danger Is Speed

To the Editor:

I sympathize with Rocky and Julie Curtis’s account of their “frightful” experience rounding the southbound curve in Ft. Hunt Road just past the Martha Washington Library, but doubt that prohibiting turns into the newly-opened Westgrove Park (a local park meant to serve the residents within 1-2 miles) will solve the real problems confronting travelers along Ft. Hunt Road.

Assuming drivers obey the speed limit of 35 mph, the normal estimated stopping distance (360 ft., including reaction time), is well within the sight lines of both ends of the curve on either side of the Westgrove Park entrance (as shown on county maps). That is not true for many other curving sections of Ft. Hunt Road where it intersects with neighborhood streets and sight lines are much more limited.

Unfortunately, if drivers can’t enter Westgrove from the north, they will be forced to go several miles farther south before they can safely reverse direction, further increasing congestion and adding to the growing dangers faced by drivers trying to enter Ft. Hunt Road from the side streets.

The entrance to Westgrove Park from Ft. Hunt Road is just one piece of what should be a much greater concern. That road has become one of the most dangerous roads in the county, starting with the section between Belleview Blvd and continuing all the way to the Hollin Hall Shopping Center.

At the end of the school day, it’s a mess near the school/library/rec center, with cars and buses jockeying to turn left from the southbound lane near the bind curve, buses and cars parked on both shoulders of the narrow road, kids running across the road — and even a few brave souls trying to enter or exit the library/Rec Center parking lot. Drivers heading north at that hour are in even greater danger as they round that same blind curve and come upon cars suddenly pulling out from the shoulder just past the curve.

And who knows if the car waiting to turn left into Westgrove actually contained Fido? As a frequent user of Westgrove, I often see cars entering the park from the north, rounding the circular road, and exiting to the right so they can park on the shoulder. (Indeed, the availability of this turnaround is not an illogical way of mitigating the growing congestion problem.at the school entrance.)

But the bigger issue remains: how to make Ft. Hunt Road safer, especially north of Sherwood Hall Lane, where road widenings and turn lanes are inconsistent, speeding is the norm, and there are too many blind curves. Less than a mile from Westgrove, at another (and even blinder) curve where Ft. Hunt intersects Paul Spring Road, the accident rate has become truly alarming. (I have witnessed three in the past three months alone.) Despite a death, and reported accident levels in that area in at least two of the past few years that have exceeded the minimum standard for installation of a traffic light, nothing is being done.

More than a year ago, after several months spent trying to get the attention of our local and state elected officials (Toddy Puller was the only one who even responded to our initial request), a small group of concerned Hollin Hills residents met with VDOT (meeting arranged by Senator Puller’s staff). Here, we learned that, contrary to our understanding, Ft. Hunt Road is actually a county road, though VDOT is responsible for paving (but not widening) and installation of traffic lights.

Without some proactive effort by our elected officials, it is unlikely that there will be any effort to address these problems in our lifetime. But there are a few steps that could be taken at minimum cost with maximum effectiveness: better signage warning of curves, reduction of speed limits on the more dangerous sections of Ft. Hunt to 25 or even 15 mph, and proactive enforcement of the speeding laws in those sections.

Although the police have denied it, speeding is a major problem on Ft. Hunt Road. I rarely see cars moving at less than 40 mph along Ft. Hunt Road, and often see them exceeding 50 mph northbound just before they approach the Paul Spring intersection (where the poorly marked and badly lighted intersection, the blind curve, the very narrow lanes, people making illegal right turns from Paul Spring, and a deep ditch on the east side are responsible for the ever-growing number of accidents at that corner).

Last week’s Gazette also featured a letter complaining about the excessive speeds on the GW Parkway (also easily observed). Gino Shoultz’s plea to “stop the insanity and slow the traffic down now” should apply to Ft. Hunt Road as well.

Mary Tracy