Weeks of mourning and activism by Loudouners after four lives were lost in six weeks on Evergreen Mills Road have turned into action by the county Board of Supervisors.
Erin Kaplan was killed and three of her family members seriously injured at the intersection of Evergreen Mills and Watson Road when her car was hit by a food truck converted from a bus. Only weeks before, a Suffolk woman, Courtney Ashe, apparently lost control of her vehicle in a heavy rainstorm while traveling along Evergreen Mills Road and drove into Sycolin Creek. The car was found upside down in the creek three days later, with Ashe’s body and the bodies of her 9-year-old cousin and 5-year-old son inside.
Now the board has unanimously ordered a safety audit of both Evergreen Mills and Watson Road.
Kaplan’s husband, Faran, and one her children were at the Board of Supervisors last night to ask for action. Faran Kaplan said it appears his wife’s life was taken by “somebody that was trying to avoid Rt. 50.”
“Congestions have made the roads in this area virtually impossible to pass during certain times,” Kaplan said. “Congestion is what forces people off of the arterial routes and into the secondary country roads. In this case, I believe it was congestion that took my wife.”
Those secondary roads, he said, “used to be out in the country at the edge of society. But as sprawl heads out to the west, they quickly become in the middle of our everyday.”
And he said it will only get worse when Metro arrives in Loudoun. “So I’m not here with a complaint,” he said. “I’m here with a question of how we can fix this before more lives are lost.”
He and a crowd of other people wore green to the meeting to show their support for improving Evergreen Mills Road. Among those: state Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10) and state Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13).
“I lost a good friend of mine, former Dulles District Supervisor Henry C. Stowers, in 2001 in an eerily similar accident to the one that took Erin Kaplan, at the corner of Evergreen Mills Road and Ryan Road,” Minchew recalled. Stowers served on the county Board of Supervisors from 1972 to 1979.
Minchew also pointed out the multiple projects on Evergreen Mills Road in the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s TransAction Plan, scheduled for a vote Oct. 12. The latest draft of the plan lists projects that would widen Evergreen Mills Road to four lanes along its entire length. Appearing in TransAction is the first step to winning funding from the authority, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars in construction ever year.
Kris Countryman told her story of getting the unwelcome surprise of a phone call about an accident on Evergreen Mills.
“When I pick up the phone, I realized that the phone call was from a Loudoun County police officer telling me that the bus that was taking my two daughters to school that day had been in an accident,” Countryman said. “Not only that, but my 6-year-old daughter is being transported to the hospital.”
County Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure Director Joe Kroboth wrote by email that the safety audit will involve comparing the conditions on Evergreen Mills Road and Watson Road to nationally accepted design and safety standards. He said that includes a wide variety of factors among them the geometry of the road, such as curves and hills; the width of the lanes; the need for paved shoulders, turn lanes, and passing lanes; sight distances; speed limits; lighting; and the history of accidents along the road.
“Often these studies are isolated to smaller areas or specific intersections,” Kroboth said. “The Evergreen Mills Road corridor study will be the largest safety audit undertaken by our department in the past five years.”
The safety audit was formally proposed by Supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), whose districts encompass Evergreen Mills Road, but they gave credit to the full board for its unanimous vote and support.
“I am actually not going to try to sell this to my colleagues,” Buffington said. “I think there is nothing better I can say than what has already been said by the folks in green that are here tonight.”
The evening’s meeting was punctuated by another serious accident on Evergreen Mills Road. According to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, about a half hour before the Board of Supervisors meeting started, a southbound driver on Evergreen Mills Road crossed the centerline near the Black Branch Parkway intersection. Two vehicles coming the opposite direction swerved to miss the oncoming vehicle. One vehicle was sideswiped and all three vehicles wound up in the ditch, one overturned. This time, there were no serious injuries reported.