BERRYVILLE — Drivers must be careful on Harry Byrd Highway (Va. 7) no matter what safety improvements are made to it, Clarke County and state officials said.
The Clarke County Board of Supervisors and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) are continuing to examine what improvements are needed.
But “it’s the person in the car” who ultimately is in control of highway safety, said Berryville District Supervisor Mary Daniel.
Last winter, the supervisors asked VDOT to do a safety audit of Va. 7 after hearing complaints from area residents and drivers about problems such as speeding, limited sight distances and inadequate turn lanes. A report provided in September listed the findings and ideas for improvements.
The supervisors discussed the report with Ed Carter, resident engineer at VDOT’s regional office in Edinburg, and David Morris, a VDOT traffic engineer, during a work session Monday morning. Afterward, they asked the VDOT officials to do more work — such as determining cost factors — to determine which recommendations are feasible.
Speeding was determined to be a major problem along the roadway’s 13½-mile stretch through Clarke between the Frederick and Loudoun County lines. The speed limit is 55 mph, but the average speeds of vehicles are between 60 mph and 63 mph, based on measurements taken by VDOT.
“We know most traffic is exceeding the speed limit,” Morris said.
“Nobody’s doing 55 except little old ladies, and they get pushed off the road” by the speeders, Russell District Supervisor Barbara Byrd said.
“Speed can be a factor in many types of accidents,” Morris continued. When trying to enter Va. 7 from a side road, he said, it can be hard to judge the speed of traffic approaching along the highway.
Morris said there are smaller things, such as installing rumble strips near some intersections to slow vehicles, that VDOT can do easily within its budget. Carter added that it will proceed with such “low-hanging fruit,” based on what it deems appropriate.
Projects more complicated will necessitate the county obtaining funds through sources such as VDOT’s Smart Scale program.
Smart Scale involves scoring and prioritizing proposed transportation projects to determine which ones eventually are funded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. As part of the work to come, county planning department staff and Smart Scale engineers must get together to determine how potential projects might score, Carter said.
Va. 7’s intersection with Shepherds Mill Road (Va. 612) east of Berryville is the spot that county officials generally believe needs the most help, regardless of the ultimate cost. Sight distances there are limited by the presence of a convenience store, vegetation, an embankment and a sagging curve in the pavement along the highway.
“Certainly raising the sag will help” drivers coming out of Shepherds Mill see approaching traffic, Carter said.
In turn, if drivers on Va. 7 can better see vehicles along Shepherds Mill approaching the intersection, they may be more likely to slow down to help those vehicles cross in front of them, Morris said.
Byrd said she also would like to see improvements made to Va. 7’s intersection with Triple J Road/Crums Church Road west of Berryville. She said she understands that many drivers run red lights there.
According to VDOT’s report, 289 vehicle accidents occurred along the Clarke portion of Va. 7 from 2016 through 2018. Ninety-eight resulted in injuries and one resulted in a fatality.
Based on traffic counts, VDOT estimates that specific places along Va. 7 in Clarke see an average of 23,000 to 28,000 vehicles per day. Monday through Friday, the average is 25,000 to 30,000. Peak times are between 4:30 and 7:30 a.m. for eastbound lanes and 3 to 6 p.m. for westbound lanes, when many drivers are commuting.
Va. 7’s fatality rate is only about one-fourth the average for similar “principal arterial” highways statewide, the report shows.