Three truck accidents in one week push state to act
Without communication from state officials as to the status of an application by the Board of Supervisors to the Department of Transportation to restrict large trucks on bucolic, narrow Ben Venue Road, the road’s residents waited out the Fourth of July holiday weekend not knowing if the proposal had been approved or denied.
Ben Venue Road, designated as a scenic byway and rural historic district, looks on a map like a “shortcut” between Routes 211 and 522 in Flint Hill. However, navigating the constricted and twisty road with its several blind spots actually takes longer than using 211 to 522.
Days before the holiday, Ben Venue residents had heard that the state’s Commissioner of Highways Stephen C. Brich was leaning toward denying the application. The road’s residents mounted a coordinated campaign to promote the restriction, calling and emailing not only Brich, but also Richmond State Engineer Ray Khoury, Culpeper District Engineer John Lynch, Culpeper District Representative to the Commonwealth Transportation Board Alison DeTuncq, and the Warrenton VDOT office engineer Mark Nesbit.
Mena Lockwood from Khoury’s office confirmed in a July 8 email that VDOT had considered denying the application.
A 24-hour study of traffic on Ben Venue Road in August 2018, Lockwood said, “indicated that the number of through trucks was relatively low. The low frequency of through trucks was part of the District Traffic Engineer’s consideration in recommending that the restriction not be approved.”
In a phone call Wednesday, Nesbit said, “There was very limited crash history associated with truck traffic on the road. And the actual truck volume was similar to other roads. Based on the data, [the Traffic Engineering section] felt it was not something that needed to be approved.”
Then, late Monday afternoon, County Administrator Garrey Curry received official word that Brich had approved the county’s request that Ben Venue Road be restricted to through trucks.
The letter, signed by Brich and dated July 8 stated that based on a traffic engineering study and analysis of the proposal “Route 729 (Ben Venue Road) in Rappahannock County between Route 522 (Zachary Taylor Highway) and Route 211 (Lee Highway) is prohibited to through traffic of trucks. . . . By copy of this letter, I am directing the Virginia Department of Transportation to erect the proper signs to notify the traveling public of this closure.”
Responding to unofficial reports of the approval earlier in the day, Curry wrote in an email to residents, “If [Brich] did in fact approve the restriction, you should know that the citizen outreach is very likely the reason behind the approval,” referring to the barrage of phone calls, letters, and emails to state officials.
(In an email Wednesday, July 9, Lou Hatter, Communications Manager for the VDOT Culpeper office provided the more than twenty letters written to VDOT during the public comment period in May supporting the restriction.)
Three truck accidents in a week
Call it karma, but in the week of July 1, there were three accidents on Ben Venue Road involving through trucks. In the most serious accident, a semi crushed a small car against the road embankment. Luckily, no one was hurt, but Ben Venue residents lost no time in sending photos of the accidents to Brich, Khoury, Lynch, DeTuncq,and Nesbit, as well as to State Delegate Michael Webert and Senator Mark Obershain.
The mother of the young woman in the car responded to a RappNews story.
“As you can imagine,” she wrote, “getting that phone call from [my daughter] telling me she had been hit by a tractor trailer and was trapped in her car was the phone call all parents fear. . . . We will never travel Ben Venue Road again and if you value your life you will stay away too!”
Delegate Webert, alerted by Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish to the truck restriction resolution, wrote to Brich: “Having traveled this road many times, I can attest to the danger that through truck traffic poses to the individuals that live off this road, and other motorists. As mentioned in the resolution, the residents of Rappahannock County who routinely travel this road have been placing their health, welfare, and safety at risk.”
Then on Friday, July 5, at 3 p.m., a CenturyLink truck was run off the road by a large truck just north of Fishhawk Pass. The CenturyLink truck driver said he pulled over to avoid the large truck coming in the opposite direction and got stuck in the ditch alongside the road. The other truck also went off the road to avoid a collision and left its tracks on private property.
The CenturyLink driver did not report the incident to the sheriff, but one of the road’s residents did and took photos, which she sent to Brich, other highway officials, and Webert.
In an email to this reporter, Webert wrote, “Keep the incidents documented for evidence to the Commissioner. And talk about a small world. The young girl in the car was the daughter of a good friend of mine who lives in Warren County!”
In a third accident, a flatbed truck ran a vehicle off the road. The truck left the scene and residents were unable to get photos or identifying information.
Next steps and thanks
From here, Curry said in an email that he would reach out to mapping companies to make them aware of the restriction.
“Google maps, for example, does not track truck restrictions, while others do,” Curry said. “Maybe this extra piece of paper will help me convince Google to reroute traffic [and] all they need to do is code the speed traveled slower and the system will take care of the rest.”
Nesbit said that he will be sending Curry a sign plan this week and that it would take two to three weeks before “Through Trucks Prohibited” signs are erected.
Editor’s note: Patty Hardee lives on Ben Venue Road.