Officials weigh options for safer Lee Chapel Road, as community calls for more action after fatal crash

Optical speed bars intended to slow down drivers have been installed on Lee Chapel Road in Fairfax Station (via Pat Herrity/Twitter)

Calls for safety improvements on Lee Chapel Road in Fairfax Station have resurfaced in the wake of last week’s car crash that killed two teens and put a third in the hospital.

As an online petition urging Fairfax County to prioritize regular maintenance and new safety features surpassed 12,000 signatures, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity — who represents the area — met with state and county transportation staff to discuss short, mid and long-term options for addressing long-standing safety concerns.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Del. Kathy Tran (D-42) also attended the meeting yesterday (Wednesday).

“Both VDOT and County staff came to the meeting with ideas for improving the safety of the road and will be working to address the feasibility and timing of these potential improvements including those recommended by residents,” Herrity tweeted, adding that another meeting will be held next week.

A key connection between Lorton via Route 123 and the Burke/Fairfax Station area, Lee Chapel Road has been the site of 243 vehicle crashes since 2011, resulting in 148 injuries and two deaths, according to state data.

That includes the fatal Jan. 10 crash, where a sedan veered off the road while going over a hill approaching the Fairfax County Parkway intersection, according to police. The crash killed 16-year-old South County High School students Ariana Haftsavar and Ashlyn Brotemarkle, who were identified publicly by family and friends.

Started by classmates of Ariana and Ashlyn, the petition says local residents have been questioning the road’s safety for years, noting that a 19-year-old died in a crash at the same intersection in 2015.

“The solution for this conflict is to keep the road maintained regularly by doing something big like putting in safety features to something small like filling in potholes,” the petition says. “Safety features include signs that blink when you are to slow down at turns, road lights, safety signs before the road starts, and guardrails.”

After the last week’s crash, the Virginia Department of Transportation added “optical speed bars” on the road last Friday (Jan. 13). The striped markings are thought to reduce speeds on curves with an optical illusion that makes drivers aware of how fast they’re going.

“We are saddened to hear of the loss of two of our community members,” VDOT said in a statement. “As is customary, we allow time for the police department to fully investigate the crash to determine the facts, circumstances, and cause. Once we receive the finalized police report, our Traffic Engineering group will perform a safety review of the location.”

According to VDOT, there have been several signage and marking changes on the road in recent years, including a pilot study that installed optical speed bars on a half-mile stretch between Route 123 and Fairfax County Parkway in March 2006.

Other changes have included:

  • 45 mph signs replaced with 40 mph signs in March 2005
  • Markings and signage improved in August 2006, including right turn lane marking and “Right Lane Must Turn Right” signage on southbound Lee Chapel Road prior to Pond Point Drive
  • Curve warning, advisory speed (30 mph) and object marker signage was added northbound in October 2006, including “Hill Blocks View” and “School Bus Stop Ahead” signs
  • Painted and installed “pork chop island” southbound in 2014 to address drivers using it to bypass through traffic and the right turn arrows were repainted
  • Installed turn lane arrows and repainted “pork chop island” in right lane to Pond Point Drive in May 2015
  • “Do Not Block Intersection” sign installed northbound at Pond Point Drive in November 2017

However, more substantial changes to the road design have yet to materialize.

A major overhaul that would widen the road from two to four lanes between Route 123 and the parkway remains unfunded. Herrity recommended the project for inclusion on the county’s Transportation Priorities Plan (TPP) in 2017 after the fatal 2015 crash.

“This is one of a number of roads in the district and countywide that are left over from Fairfax County’s older, rural past that can be unsafe in modern times with our higher traffic volumes and faster vehicles,” he said. “My goal is to make this road safer for all of our drivers in the short term while I work to fund the ultimate improvements to remove the hills and curves associated with these tragedies.”

In addition to widening the road, the project would “improve the alignment, remove the hills…and add curb and gutter as well as pedestrian improvements,” Herrity told FFXnow by email.

The Lee Chapel widening is not among the dozens of projects included in a draft update of the TPP that was presented to the Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee on Sept. 30.

A Gofundme started by a family friend of Ariana to assist her parents with funeral costs is nearing its $20,000 goal. A memorial service will be held on Sunday (Jan. 22). A service for Ashlyn was held last night.