03BYRDAVENUE

A lock box is to be installed at this gate on Byrd Avenue in Berryville to provide emergency crews better access to the industrial and commercial property at 351 Station Road (in the background).

BERRYVILLE — The town will pursue measures to try and ease traffic problems near an industrial/commercial complex following complaints from neighbors.

Tractor-trailers and other large trucks servicing the former American Woodmark facility at 351 Station Road are mostly responsible for the problems, according to those who spoke during a Berryville Town Council work session Monday evening.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will be asked to post signs along U.S. 340 (Lord Fairfax Highway) to discourage truck drivers from trying to get to the complex by going through the South Church Street/Byrd Avenue/Josephine Street neighborhood. VDOT is willing to consider the request, Town Manager Keith Dalton said.

Public works crews will determine where to move a "No Outlet" sign on Byrd Avenue.

"It's too far down the street for (drivers of) trucks to see," Dalton said, until they're already on the avenue and can't easily back out

Also, a study will be done to determine exactly how much traffic the area has. Results of the study could indicate that further traffic control measures are necessary.

Byrd Avenue used to extend from South Church Street to Station Road, bisecting the industrial complex property. In the early 1990s, that part of the avenue was abandoned as the company sought to expand the property's use. The gate was erected to stop the public from going onto the site. As a result, vehicles now use Station Road to enter and leave.

American Woodmark later sold the building. It's now occupied by nine tenants with various operating hours, said property manager Chris McInturff.

Clarke County tax records show the current property owner as Pleasant Acres Apartments LLC — even though businesses occupy the complex.

Trowbridge Steel uses a portion of the property along the west side of Station Road to store steel. When the material is loaded and unloaded, the road often is blocked for up to a half-hour. That happens as much as six times per weekday. Traffic is delayed, and the work takes longer as efforts are made to accommodate the traffic, according to a report in the council's agenda packet.

Town staff members have urged the property owners to open the gate for limited hours per day, the report shows. That would give passenger vehicles another way to get to the site.

But "I don't think it's good to open it at all," Alvin Poe said of the gate.

If it's opened, "you know people in town are going to use it as a cut-through" between South Church and East Main streets, said Ron Baker.

Poe and Baker were among more than a dozen Byrd Avenue residents who town officials invited to Monday's work session to provide the council input. They and others recounted past problems with speeding on the street when the gate was open. They also mentioned instances of trucks using the street to try and get to 351 Station Road — at all hours — despite the gate being locked.

Sgt. Tim Bristol of the Berryville Police Department surmised that the problem stems from truckers who haven't visited the town before using routes suggested by their global positioning systems.

Baker said a camera outside his house last year recorded 38 tractor-trailers on the avenue trying to get to the complex.

Trucks have to back out of the street, causing ruckuses in the neighborhood, both Dalton and neighborhood residents said.

"It's really loud when you're trying to sleep," said Lou Ann Roark.

When the trucks' safety devices are beeping in the early morning hours, it wakes people up, Baker said.

Other residents said people throughout Berryville come to the neighborhood to walk, as well as walk their dogs.

"It wouldn't be appeasing to me," Jo Anne Baker said, "to be walking a dog and then here comes a big tractor-trailer."

"Our street is residential," said Mike Roark, speculating that "it's going to become commercial if they open the gate up."

Dalton said the town has worked with local businesses to reduce the truck traffic somewhat.

Yet the truck problem on Byrd Avenue seems to be getting worse, Chuck Porter said.

Councilwoman Diane Harrison predicted it will become worse because of the Virginia Inland Port, about 20 miles away near Front Royal.

"If we open Byrd up (to through traffic), it's going to increase traffic on South Church," said Harrison, who lives on that street.

Nevertheless, those at the meeting recalled incidents of people at 351 Station Road needing medical assistance while the road was blocked, making it hard for ambulances to get there. That ultimately led to the decision to put a lock box on the gate at the end of Byrd Avenue. Emergency services personnel will have access to a key.

"We want to make our property a little more accessible for emergency services," McInturff said.

Harrison said she felt frustrated.

"I don't know what the solution is" for eliminating the neighborhood's traffic problems, she said.

But "it sounds like we found middle ground" with the measures being taken, said Dalton.

"Sometimes we have to think things through ... before we make huge decisions," said Councilwoman Donna Marie McDonald.

If it's ever decided to open the gate to through traffic, the speed limit along Byrd Avenue should be no more than 15 mph, and drivers caught speeding should be subject to an extra $200 fine beyond regular penalties, McDonald said.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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