County supervisors have followed up a vote last summer authorizing $1.2 million in safety work on Evergreen Mills Road with another vote for major projects on the road—although it will be years before drivers see them.
Evergreen Mills Road, a two-lane rural road, is now a heavily-trafficked route between Rt. 15 in Leesburg and Loudoun County Parkway near Arcola. Watson Road, another rural two-lane road, links Evergreen Mills Road and Rt. 50.
On March 5, county supervisors heard the results of an extensive road safety study and series of community meetings on the two roads. They had already set aside funding for improvements including installing reflective material on guardrails, wider edge striping, speed display signs and other road signs, and after unanimous vote Tuesday will channel millions more dollars into work on the road. That will fund a new left-turn lane near the Evergreen SportsPlex, a rumble strip on a particularly accident-prone stretch of Evergreen Mills Road, and a study of the possibility of adding traffic signals or roundabouts at Evergreen Mills Road’s intersections with Crimson Place/Red Cedar Drive and Shreve Mill Road. That work adds up to an estimated $12.3 million.
Supervisors also unanimously voted at the last minute to go ahead and plan for funding for roundabouts at those intersections in their capital plans as well, although the study is not yet done. That will mean during next year’s budget work, county staff members will try to find room for another $17.4 million. Because the county operates on a six-year capital schedule, that funding will not come available before fiscal year 2025, which begins in 2024, unless supervisors take further action to push other county projects back.
That action comes after a number of highly publicized fatal accidents on those roads in 2017. 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.
Six weeks later, Erin Kaplan, Ashburn mother of three, was killed when the driver of a food truck ran a stop sign at the end of Watson Road, T-boning Kaplan’s car. That accident also sent her three children, Benjamin, Emma and Sophia, to the hospital. The food truck owner and driver, Tony Dane, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 18 months in jail and $3,500 in fines for, among other things, reckless driving and failing to get his vehicle inspected.
“The combined total of 625 crashes on Evergreen Mills Road and Watson in the last six to eight years is why we’re here,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge). “We can’t talk about this without mentioning the Kaplan family, the Ashe family, and lots of other families who have lost loved ones on these two roads—primarily Evergreen Mills Road but also Watson. For their sacrifice is why we’re here working on this.”
Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) credited the citizen activists, like Kelly McGinn and Stephanie Manning, who helped start the Make Evergreen Mills Road Safe Facebook page and pushed supervisors to take action, for keeping supervisors’ attention on the area.
The safety study surveyed almost seven years of crash data, from January 2011 to November 2017, finding 625 accidents on Evergreen Mills and Watson Roads. 564 of those were on Evergreen Mills.
The study found that the vast majority of accidents on Evergreen Mills Road involved car collisions including rear-ending, animals, or leaving the roadway. On Watson Road, more than half of all accidents involved vehicles leaving the road.