BERRYVILLE — A peaceful protest is planned Saturday morning to draw attention to a speeding problem along Shepherds Mill Road (Va. 612) in Clarke County.
The road stretches from Lord Fairfax Highway (U.S. 340) near the West Virginia line to Harry Byrd Highway (Va. 7) east of Berryville. Jo Bighouse, who runs Serenity Farm and is organizing the protest, said many commuters traveling to Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., speed along the road while using it as a shortcut between the highways.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, she and other concerned residents plan to stand along the road with signs encouraging the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to lower the speed limit.
“This will send a powerful message that our community is not safe with the current speed limit and we demand change,” Bighouse wrote in a Facebook posting.
Bighouse has lived on Shepherds Mill Road for 15 years. She said speeding along the road has gotten worse.
The speed limit is 35 mph near the road’s intersection with Harry Byrd Highway. Near the Lord Fairfax Highway intersection, the speed limit is 45 mph. Most of the road, however, has a speed limit of 55 mph, but there are no signs alerting drivers to that limit, according to Bighouse.
In Virginia, the speed limit along two-lane rural roads generally is 55 mph unless otherwise posted. The limit for trucks may be lower.
The speed limit in front of Bighouse’s home is 55 mph. She lives on “a long, flat stretch” that is a passing zone, she said.
Drivers “will just floor it ... and pass three or four (vehicles) at a time,” said Bighouse.
In May, a man was killed in a crash involving two motorcycles and a minivan along Shepherds Mill.
Police frequently monitor the road and issue tickets to drivers who speed or commit other traffic infractions, Bighouse said. “But their resources are limited. They can’t be there all the time.”
Based on what she has seen and what people have told her, speeding vehicles frequently get close to the rear bumpers of turning vehicles, posing a risk for rear-end collisions. She personally encounters those speeders sometimes.
Bighouse and her neighbors want the speed limit along all of Shepherds Mill reduced to 35 mph. Over the years, their efforts to convince VDOT to lower the limit have been futile, she said.
On Oct. 12, Bighouse’s Great Pyrenees-golden retriever, Colby, escaped her yard because of a faulty gate latch. He was standing beside the road in front of her house when a hit-and-run driver struck him. He died instantly.
That incident “pretty much lit the fire” for her to organize the protest, she said.
VDOT officials have told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors they cannot lower a speed limit without first doing an engineering study of the roadway.
Still, Bighouse believes VDOT might lower the limit along Shepherds Mill if officials would come out during the worst times for traffic and see conditions for themselves.
Speeding and other traffic violations along the route mostly occur during the morning and evening rush hours — 5 to 8 a.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m., Bighouse said.
Although she doesn’t know whether any VDOT officials will be at the protest, she is optimistic that a large turnout will attract their attention.
“We need as many supporters as possible to make this important change happen,” she said.
Parking for participants will be available at Marvin Chapel United Methodist Church, which is about a half-mile south of Serenity Farm, Bighouse said. Parking along the road should be a last resort, she added.
Participants initially should gather at the farm store at 2626 Shepherds Mill Road, she said.
For more information about the protest, visit “Slow Down Shepherds Mill Road” on Facebook or contact Bighouse by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.