The Rt. 50/Zulla Road intersection has been creating dangerous situations for years, but it should get a little safer this year thanks to a deal between the Town of Middleburg and VDOT.
The Town Council voted unanimously to partner with VDOT to install lighted “Do Not Enter” signs to deter drivers turning west from Zulla Road from accidentally entering Rt. 50’s eastbound lanes in the path of oncoming traffic. VDOT will spend $40,000 to install the signs and the Town Council authorized up to $2,500 to cover electricity connection costs and $30-$40 per month on the electricity bill.
Safety at the intersection, which sits a half-mile west of the town limits, has been a concern for decades, as many drivers on Zulla Road wanting to head west have mistakenly turned left into oncoming traffic thinking that Rt. 50 is a two-lane road. Rt. 50 is a four-lane divided highway in that area, requiring those heading west from Zulla Road to cross through a 100-foot-wide median, which is often surrounded by overgrown grass that hides the westbound lanes.
Drivers have also sometimes blindly followed directions from their GPS systems, which tell them to turn left onto Rt. 50 but don’t indicate the highway is divided.
The situation is even more dangerous because drivers headed east on Rt. 50 can’t see the intersection until they crest a hill 800 feet west.
The new “Do Not Enter” signs will be lit up 24/7. They will replace the two unlit signs of the same warning and will accompany the four eastward-pointing arrows along the Rt. 50 asphalt and the “Divided Highway” sign on Zulla Road that informs drivers that Rt. 50 is not a single-lane highway—safety improvements VDOT has installed in the past few years.
Sunil Taori, VDOT Loudoun’s assistant transportation and land use director, said that, while the signage and arrows have worked during daylight hours, VDOT agreed to look into solutions to address concerns related to wrong turns at night.
He said the existing “Do Not Enter” signs are reflective, but headlights need to be pointed at them to illuminate the warning—meaning it is too late to alert drivers to their error.
Middleburg Police Chief A.J. Panebianco said he is confident the lighted signs will help. “We believe that that’s going to be the best that we’re going to get to make that as safe as we can be,” he said.
Panebianco said that while there have been a couple near-misses at the intersection, the stage is set for a bad wreck to happen. “It’s only a matter of time,” he said.
According to Kraig Troxell, the county sheriff’s office’s media relations and communications manager, there were only two wrecks at the Rt. 50/Zulla Road intersection between May and December 2018, neither of which involved drivers turning into oncoming traffic. There have yet to be any wrecks at the intersection this year.