It was 21 months ago that Lauren McDarby was killed while jogging along Morrisonville Road. Since then, all legal proceedings for the driver who struck her have completed, but residents have yet to see many of the road improvements they say are needed to prevent a future tragedy.
In January 2019, Zachary Frye sped 60 mph down the narrow Morrisonville Road before striking and killing McDarby while she was out on her routine morning jog. Since then, residents have been on the lookout for crashes waiting to happen on the road’s sharp curves, for construction vehicles that use the road as a short cut to get from Rt. 287 to Mountain Road, and for speeders.
As the Morrisonville Community Alliance, the residents have met on multiple occasions with county supervisors, county Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure staff, VDOT and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. But, they said, they haven’t been granted all of the road safety improvements they feel will slow and thin traffic, and generally make drivers more aware of the road’s dangerous nature.
Those include a push for VDOT to reduce speed limits, remove roadside vegetation for better line of sight around three 90-degree bends, convert the Morrisonville/Purcellville Road intersection into a three-way stop and prohibit trucks from using the road as a cut through. They’ve also asked the Sheriff’s Office to periodically step up speed enforcement.
Resident Paul Belvin said speeders have been registered as traveling as much as 60 mph in 35 mph zones and 45 mph in 25 mph zones. He said pets have been run over and signs asking drivers to slow down have been knocked over—“repeatedly.”
Belvin said that while there aren’t many places for deputies to pull over speeders on the road, which measures less than 18 feet wide in some locations, about 30 residents have agreed to allow deputies to use their driveways for that purpose. According to Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Kraig Troxell, the Sheriff’s Office has conducted traffic enforcement and placed a portable speed trailer unit along the road, in addition to reviewing potential traffic calming measures alongside county Board members and county staff.
According to Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure Communications Manager Shawn Taylor Zelman, the county staff in March inventoried the signs along the road and worked to identify the optimal locations for pole-mounted speed displays, which would show drivers their speeds and encourage them to slow down if they’re speeding. He said that study is ongoing. According to the county’s July 2020 Morrisonville Road Safety Study, the proposed locations for the speed displays are about three-tenths of a mile west of Rt. 287 and on the western side of Morrisonville road just past a westbound sweeping right-hander.
Stacy Carey, the chief of staff for Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin)—whose district ends along the northern edge of Morrisonville Road—said Kershner’s office would be seeking broader community support for the installation of those displays before requesting the county staff install them.
“We’re hoping to have a good conversation with the residents in the community,” Carey said.
As for the request for a three-way stop at Purcellville Road, Belvin said VDOT informed the residents there wasn’t a high enough volume of traffic to make that happen. To get to that determination, VDOT analyzed not only the intersection’s traffic volumes, but also traffic approach speeds and crash history. VDOT Loudoun Assistant Transportation and Land Use Director Sunil Taori said the determination was made using federal guidelines.
Jean Reimers said that’s unfortunate because it seems as though VDOT is waiting for an accident to happen before acquiescing the residents’ request.
“That one death [of McDarby] … it did seem to motivate some action, but you don’t want to have to wait for another tragedy to get the attention again,” she said. “Do we really have to check the box of personal injuries?”
VDOT has already installed two chevron signs to denote a bend in the road, along with signs warning drivers of the Purcellville Road intersection. But, Belvin said, “those two don’t do anything as far as helping the intersection.”
Reimers, whose driveway is situated in the middle of one of the road’s 90-degree curves, said multiple drivers have run into those signs because they’ve carried too much speed into the corners.
To help further, VDOT also cleared some vegetation on the road’s sharp turns, but not enough, residents said. “[The turns are] still totally blind,” Belvin said.
Carey said that although VDOT is restricted to trimming the vegetation that grows in its right of way, residents can trim back the growth on their properties.
“There’s nothing from preventing them from doing that,” she said.
On the issue of through trucks, Belvin said residents suggested two alternative routes that trucks could use to get from Rt. 287 to Mountain Road in their quest to get VDOT to install “no through truck” signs—Nixon Road to Purcellville Road to Legard Farm Road; or Bolington Road to Picnic Woods Road to Britain Road.
Residents also said trucks could simply not use Morrisonville Road as a cut-through route at all and instead travel the entire length of Mountain Road from Rt. 9 to Irish Corner Road, which, they said, doesn’t take much longer to do.
But Zelman said that following a county review of a potential through-truck restriction in March, “there is no viable alternative route at/near the affected area.”
Overall, the residents are faced with a tough choice when it comes to getting the safety improvements they desire while still wanting to maintain the rural character of the village. Belvin said residents have rejected the idea for VDOT to widen the road to allow for more room and safer travel, fearing doing so would essentially set the village up for future development to some degree. It would also inevitably invite more cut-through traffic and higher speeds.
“We just want to recognize there’s safety issues,” Belvin said.
Moving closer to the two-year anniversary of the death of their neighbor, Morrisonville residents said they’re unsure about which actions to take next. Belvin said it’s unfortunate they need to flex a “political muscle” to get something done.
“I don’t know where we go from here,” he said. “We aren’t going to give up.”