Visit the western Loudoun village of Waterford on a typical weekday, and you’ll likely notice one thing. For one of the county’s smallest communities, it’s busy.
Since Loudoun’s rapid growth began in the 1980s, drivers traveling from west and north of Waterford increasingly have used the narrow, house-lined roads of the village as a cut-through to reach Rt. 9 and Rt. 7. But Waterford residents say what was once a nuisance has grown into a serious problem in the past three years, as congestion on main routes, improvements made to back roads, and the increasing population has meant more commuters see the historic village as their quickest route home.
According to Wendy Roseberry, president of the Waterford Citizens’ Association, about 3,000 vehicles cut through the village each day, mainly during rush hour.
“There’s a nice wakeup call every morning around 5 a.m.,” said Roseberry, who lives in the village.
This lasts until about 9:30 in the morning. Then, landscaping vehicles cut through the village in the afternoon to get to their customers before commuter traffic picks back up again in the evening.
Roseberry said commuters are finding new ways to get around congestion on Rt. 287, Rt. 9 and Rt. 15 during rush hour—ways that take them through Waterford.
Nick Ratcliffe, a 39-year Waterford resident, said the repaving of Milltown Road and Stumptown Road has given commuters even more incentive to avoid main roads and cut through the village.
“It really facilitated people having the choice,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about—how can they get to point B rather than going this other way.”
Roseberry and Ratcliffe both agree that new neighborhoods being built to the west of town are adding to the problem because roads are not being built fast enough to keep up with the population increase.
“It’s really pretty constant,” Ratcliffe said. “It’s just car after car after car.”
Roseberry said the high volume of traffic is hurting Waterford’s efforts to preserve its historic character. The community is a National Historic Landmark. In 1943, descendants of village families formed the Waterford Foundation to preserve the village’s buildings, traditions, and rural character.
“Citizens need to realize this is a historic landmark and we need to protect it,” Roseberry said.
She also said the volume mixed with the speed of cut-through traffic is dangerous because of the village’s narrow, building-lined streets and lack of sidewalks.
“Thus traffic safety is also a major concern,” she said. “There have been several very serious accidents.”
In one instance, on Christmas Day 2014, a driver lost control and a car ended up in Roseberry’s yard, totaling her guest’s car. More recently, on Halloween night, a speeding car crashed around the bend by the village mill.
Address the concerns, the main goal among Waterford residents is to divert traffic to different routes that don’t cut through the village.
“What we need to do is restrict the volumes,” Roseberry said. “We’ve become the arterial—we’re the substitute.”
Roseberry and her neighbors hope the planned improvements to Rt. 15 coupled with the roundabout to be built at the Rt. 9/Berlin Turnpike intersection in 2020 will alleviate cut-through traffic.
Rather than wait another three years for the roundabout, however, residents asked the county government two years ago to conduct a traffic study that would be used to petition for help from Virginia Department of Transportation. The county’s Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure has been working with an architectural/engineering consultant on the study and they are expected to wrap it up any day now.
If the request is approved, VDOT will conduct its own traffic study to determine whether it can use money from the Residential Cut-Through Traffic Program. According to Kathleen Leidich, the county’s assistant director of Transportation Planning and Operations, the program could implement measures such as route modifications and restricting access to roads at certain times.
Roseberry said perhaps the best way of keeping cut-through traffic out would be to take a page from other Virginia towns and build temporary barriers or use signs to restrict traffic from entering the village for a portion of the day.
“They’re going to have to figure out a way to keep the traffic out of here,” she said. “We are optimistic.”
In the meantime, traffic-calming techniques are being used in an attempt to slow traffic down.
Additional stop signs were put in 10 years ago, speed limits have been reduced to 20 miles per hour, residents have placed signs in their front yards that read “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here” and “Slow Down,” and trees have been planted closer to the roads.
According to Ratcliffe, the tree-planting initiative was modeled after a Long Island study from three decades ago. It was intended to preserve Waterford’s old-town feel and slow traffic by creating a calming atmosphere with a tree canopy. “The program was designed to accomplish two things at once,” he said. “When lines of sight are reduced, people drive more slowly.”
While these strategies haven’t helped slow traffic down much, some residents have reached out to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to ask for more enforcement.
According to Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Kraig Troxell, deputies have shown a presence in the village in multiple ways. One of these has been through the use of speed trailers, which show drivers how fast they’re going. Like remedies used by residents, though, the trailers haven’t helped much.
“The effectiveness is always debatable,” Troxell said.
Between October 2016 and October 2017, deputies have also made 112 traffic stops and written 96 tickets, which come with an additional $200 fine within the village.
For the next three years, or until VDOT steps in, Waterford residents will continue to use traffic-calming techniques and come up with new ways to reduce cut-through traffic.
“The solutions will be ongoing,” Roseberry said. “If you want to save Waterford, you’re going to have to restrict [traffic].”