After deadly crash, county to study lighting, cost of removing hills on Lee Chapel Road

Fairfax County will evaluate the cost of removing hills on Lee Chapel Road after multiple fatal crashes (via Pat Herrity/Twitter)

With its lone survivor still hospitalized, this month’s crash that killed two teens on Lee Chapel Road has spurred Fairfax County to step up its efforts to address long-standing concerns about the safety of the key Fairfax Station th0roughfare.

During its meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed transportation staff to develop a cost estimate for a project that would widen the two-lane road to four lanes and eliminate hills that limit driver visibility along a roughly 1-mile segment between Ox Road (Route 123) and Fairfax County Parkway.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity originally proposed the project in 2017 after a 19-year-old died in a crash at the same intersection with Fairfax County Parkway in 2015. However, no funding has been identified yet.

A petition calling for safety improvements on Lee Chapel Road now has over 13,500 signatures. Herrity met the two South County High School students behind the campaign on Monday (Jan. 23), he told the board.

“There’s a lot of community support for doing something,” he said. “Unfortunately it takes a tragedy.”

Unanimously approved, Herrity’s board matter also asks staff to look at more immediate ways to improve the roadway’s safety, such as adding streetlights and clearing shoulders on the adjacent parkland.

According to preliminary state data, there have been 245 crashes and 149 injuries on Lee Chapel Road since 2010, including the fatal crashes in 2015 and this past Jan. 10. Also the site of a 2005 crash that killed an 18-year-old who had just graduated from Hayfield Secondary School, the road has proven especially dangerous for young, inexperienced drivers.

The victims of the fatal crash on Jan. 10 were all South County High School students. Ariana Haftsavar and Ashlyn Brotemarkle, the two teens who were killed, were 16.

Detectives have determined that the 2019 Lexus IS350 was traveling at 100.7 mph when it veered off the road, becoming airborne for about 130 feet before landing on its roof, the Fairfax County Police Department reported last night.

“Fire and rescue personnel extricated one victim, who was taken to a nearby hospital; she remains hospitalized,” the FCPD said. “The driver and the rear passenger, of the Lexus were declared deceased at the scene. The passenger in the backseat was not wearing a seatbelt.”

In the wake of the crash, Del. Kathy Tran (D-42) will host a virtual town hall on road safety at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30.

Calling Lee Chapel Road “a dangerous stretch of roadway,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay suggested that the county needs to work with Fairfax County Public Schools on its education for students who are getting their driver’s permit or license.

With pedestrian fatalities in particular sharply increasing last year, the county launched a public awareness campaign urging all road users to “take a moment” and consider everyone’s safety when making decisions. Speed cameras are also on their way to select school and work zones.

“This is going to be a team effort,” McKay said. “It’s going to be looking at our roads, looking at safety features, but also having those real conversations with, in particular, our young people as a result of what happened here, but really with all drivers.”

While his proposal focuses on Lee Chapel Road, Herrity acknowledged that there are similarly unsafe roads across the county, stating that he’s planning to work with other supervisors “to see what we can do perhaps countywide.”

“Many of our roads…were developed when we were largely rural and not even suburban in many cases,” Herrity observed at yesterday’s meeting. “Since then, the volumes on these roads and the power of automobiles have significantly increased, so this is one of those roads that clearly isn’t designed for today’s cars or today’s volumes.”

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust noted that several projects, including the Lee Chapel widening, were removed from the county’s Transportation Priorities Plan in 2019 after Virginia redirected local transportation funds to pay for Metro.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation will present plans to update the TPP again at a board transportation committee meeting early this year, according to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who chairs the committee.

The committee’s first meeting of the year is scheduled for Tuesday (Jan. 31), though no agenda has been posted yet.

“There are a couple of things we’re waiting on externally, but yeah, it’s starting,” Alcorn said.