Residents calling for action on local road
Posted: February 6, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — A local resident hopes a petition that he sent to his state representatives will help spur action on a stretch of road he believes to be dangerous.
Sean Lancaster has lived on Back Mountain Road in Frederick County for more than a decade, and he’s scared that either a family member or friend will be involved in a traffic accident on the two-lane road.
Back Mountain Road runs just over 131⁄2 miles south from Northwestern Pike (U.S. 50) to Wardensville Grade, west of Winchester.
“We’ve had several fatal accidents on the road in the last several years,” Lancaster said.
He emailed a petition with 82 signatures to several government officials Tuesday asking them to address the problems with the road. He’s also spoken previously with transportation, law enforcement and elected officials about the problem, with mixed results.
“I don’t know what to do about it,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done.”
From Dec. 1, 2010, through early December 2012 there were at least 39 traffic accidents on Back Mountain Road — resulting in more than a dozen injuries and five fatalities, according to W.W. Gosnell, supervisor of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office’s traffic division.
“Can you imagine if you had that many accidents on a stretch of [Interstate] 81?” he said.
He added that the number of crashes was likely more than what the data shows since some accidents don’t meet certain criteria — such as the amount of damage — to be reported to the state, Gosnell added.
The speed limit for a two-mile stretch of the road, starting at Northwestern Pike, is 45 mph, with an increase to 55 mph the rest of the way, according to Cliff Balderson, residency administrator with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Edinburgh Residency.
Multiple factors are used to determine a road’s speed limit, including the number of intersections, vertical and horizontal curves and hills, the width of the road and shoulder and accident history, Balderson said.
He added that just because a road has a posted speed limit does not mean all drivers will adhere to it.
An August 2011 VDOT speed study conducted on Back Mountain Road found that the 50th percentile speed was determined to be 49 mph and the 85th percentile speed was determined to be 54 mph for the posted speed limit of 45 mph.
This means that that percent of drivers travel at or below that speed under normal conditions.
A recent VDOT study of Back Mountain Road also found that the road had lower crash and injury rates — 202 and 92 compared to 231 and 113 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled — on average than other roads in VDOT’s Staunton District. However, the fatality rate was much higher, 17.34 on Back Mountain Road compared to 2.15 in the rest of the district, according to Balderson.
There are few spots on Back Mountain Road that allow law enforcement officers to sit and monitor for speeding vehicles, which can make enforcement and accident prevention difficult, Gosnell said.
“The [thing] we continue to tell people when we stop them on Back Mountain Road is if you travel that road ... you can count the number of crosses along the side of the road and we’re just trying to prevent any more from being erected,” he said. “And I don’t think there have been any [fatal accidents] that have been ruled weather related, so if it’s not speed, what is it?”
Lancaster believes that if Back Mountain Road’s speed limit was 45 mph along the whole road — and if drivers obeyed the speed limit — it would cut down on the amount of accidents.
The petition asks for traffic fines on the road to be doubled, with increased law enforcement from 6 to 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 7 p.m. It also asks for the installation of a three-way stop sign at the intersection of Back Mountain and South Hayfield roads.
— Contact Matt Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org