After over 600 crashes, improvements planned for dangerous Loudoun roads

After 625 crashes in a 7-year span — culminating in a bus colliding with and killing a mother of three — the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has approved plans to improve safety on Evergreen Mills and Watson roads, on the outskirts of Leesburg.

Improvements on the $29 million list of recommendations include turn lanes and rumble strips, and they could include the building of roundabouts or the installation of traffic lights. The improvements will be prioritized in future Capital Improvement Program budgets.

A road safety audit showed 564 crashes were reported along Evergreen Mills, with 61 reported on Watson.

On Sept. 8, 2017, a school bus that had been converted into a food truck blew through a stop sign on Watson and slammed into 39-year-old Erin Kaplan’s station wagon, which had been traveling on Evergreen Mills.

Kaplan was killed, and four family members were injured.

In July, driver Tony Dane was sentenced to 12 years in prison, after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter and four other charges. Prosecutors told jurors that Dane made a conscious decision to not maintain his vehicle, which led to brake failure and Kaplan’s death.

“On Watson Road, the large majority of accidents are just cars leaving the roadway, not rear-end collisions like on Evergreen Mills Road,” said Ashburn supervisor Ralph Buona. “There’s no forgiving — you just get your tire off [asphalt on Watson], and you’re toast.”

According to the audit, 195 crashes on Evergreen Mills were rear-end collisions, while 34 vehicles left the roadway on Watson.

After scores of crashes on Watson — which connects to the north with U.S. Route 50 near Gilbert’s Corner, and to the south at Evergreen Mills — Buona also suggests prioritizing improvements at Watson’s intersection with a gravel road, Red Hill Road.

“You have to slow down to 5 to 10 miles an hour if you’re on Watson Road,” said Buona. “If you don’t — and a lot of people don’t — it’s just an automatic accident.”

“People that drive Watson Road understand that,” he said, but with the expansion of Loudoun County, Watson is being driven on by those unfamiliar with its twists and turns.

“We’re seeing a lot more truck traffic than we used to,” Buona said. “Dump trucks and garbage trucks and construction companies pulling large trailers, all the time. It’s a very narrow road, with zero shoulders — not even a 2-foot safety barrier at all.”

Board Chair Phyllis Randall voiced appreciation to the Make Evergreen Mills Road Safe Facebook group for raising public awareness about the dangerous corridor.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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