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Richmond Highway speed limit will drop to 35 mph starting next week

The speed limit on Richmond Highway will be reduced to 35 mph from Jeff Todd Way/Mount Vernon Memorial Highway to the Alexandria city limits (via VDOT)

The speed limit on Richmond Highway (Route 1) has been permanently lowered through much of Fairfax County.

Starting next Tuesday (May 23), the legal limit will be reduced from 45 to 35 mph along a roughly 7-mile stretch between the Alexandria City limits at the Capital Beltway (I-495) and Jeff Todd Way/Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, the Virginia and Fairfax County transportation departments announced yesterday (Monday).

The departments said the change is designed “to optimize safety and operations for pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers and transit users” along a corridor that routinely sees devastating crashes.

Just this year, there have been at least 102 vehicle crashes on the Fairfax County section of Richmond Highway, injuring 75 people, according to state data. Prior to 2018, the total number of crashes consistently topped 400, peaking at 508 crashes in 2012.

So far in 2023, three people have been killed on the roadway: two pedestrians and a motorcyclist. Since 2011, there have been about 37 fatalities.

The Virginia Department of Transportation recommended in July 2022 that the speed limit be lowered after a year-long speed study found crashes occur more frequently on Richmond Highway than other primary highways in Northern Virginia, on average.

“The team also found that Richmond Highway between Buckman Road/Mount Vernon Highway and the Alexandria southern city limits had a higher incidence of pedestrian [and] bicycle crashes and speed-related crashes compared to other sections of Richmond Highway,” VDOT said.

However, the study recommended maintaining the existing 45-mph speed limit in the Fort Belvoir area from Belvoir Road to Jeff Todd Way. That 0.75-mile stretch had a lower crash rate, though about 50% of vehicles still exceed the speed limit, according to VDOT.

At a public meeting last summer, some community members raised concerns about the lower speed limit increasing congestion and questioned how effectively it’ll be enforced, but VDOT officials said the study indicated the change will have a “minimal” impact on traffic and allow tougher penalties on drivers who violate the limit.

Even a small decrease in vehicle speeds can lead to fewer serious crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A 5-mph reduction from 40 mph, for example, will produce an estimated 34% reduction in crashes with injuries.

Signs showing the new speed limit will be placed along Richmond Highway on May 23, VDOT said. A final report on the speed study is expected to be finished around the middle of this year.