The Prince William County school board is calling for a lower speed limit near Battlefield High School in Virginia, where a handful of pedestrians have been struck in recent years.
At its meeting Wednesday night, the school board is expected to discuss a proposal to reduce the posted speed at Route 15/James Madison Highway and Graduation Drive from 55 mph to 35 mph, during the school’s drop-off and dismissal times. If approved, the proposal will be sent to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors for consideration.
Virginia’s second-largest school system hired firm Gorove/Slade Associates Inc. to determine the need for school zone speed limit signs and a reduced speed limit at select times before and after the school day.
The firm received crash data from the Virginia Department of Transportation, which found that between January 2016 and December 2020, there were 53 crashes at the intersection of James Madison Highway and Dominion Valley Drive/Graduation Drive. Thirty six of those crashes were rear-end collisions, which “may indicate that some drivers could have been operating at higher speeds and were unsuccessful in breaking on time,” the report said.
Only one of the crashes occurred because of speeding, according to the report.
Two pedestrians were killed on the stretch last year, which was outside the study window, and Prince William County police said another pedestrian was struck near the school Nov. 23.
Because there are several neighborhoods nearby, the report said “it is expected” that many kids walk to school and likely cross James Madison Highway.
The report recommends the speed be reduced from 55 mph to 35 mph at least 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after the school’s regular opening and closing hours. The school board is also calling for a school zone sign to flash on weekdays when school is in session from 6:40 a.m. to 7:40 a.m. and from 1:50 p.m. to 2:50 p.m., according to school board documents.
Renee Brennan, a mother of two current Battlefield High School students, said the stretch has been problematic in the nearly 20 years she has lived nearby. She joined calls for increased safety measures in 2018, after what she explained were “near-misses with some students going to school.”
A crosswalk, ADA-compliant ramps and additional lighting have been added, but Brennan said there’s currently no school zone on James Madison Highway.
“I call it a ‘silent school zone’ because everybody that lives in our community knows that this is a school zone, whether we have it marked or not,” Brennan said. “It is a school zone. It is the way that our children get to school, and the only people who don’t know it’s a school zone are the cars going 55 miles an hour or more crossing through that intersection.”
The intersection also doesn’t have crossing guards, she said, and many of her friends drive their students to school because “they don’t want their kids to ride their bikes; they don’t want their kids walking.”
If the speed limit reduction gets approved, Brennan said the long-term goal is to have a pedestrian bridge built.
“We’re no different than any other community that wants their kids to be able to go to school safely,” Brennen said.