Supervisors approve motion to study improvements to local road

January 27, 2023

Fairfax County Times

By Taneika Duhaney

Almost two weeks ago today, tragedy struck again on Lee Chapel Road in Fairfax Station. The first non-pedestrian-related fatal crash in the county of the year claimed the lives of two 16-year-old South County High School students, publicly identified by family and friends as Ariana Haftsavar and Ashlyn Brotemarkle-the driver and the rear passenger. A third passenger was rushed to the hospital “with injuries considered life-threatening” and she remains hospitalized according to Fairfax County Police.

The single-car crash occurred in the 7400 block of Lee Chapel Road just before 9:30 p.m. Detectives believe that as the Lexus IS350 traveled northbound, the sedan crested one of the hills along the undulating road and lost control, causing the car to veer off the road and flip on its roof as it crashed into the woods. Preliminarily, detectives do not believe alcohol was a factor in the crash but speed was.

In the days following the accident, the Crash Reconstruction Unit reviewed “evidence from the crash and the vehicle’s airbag control module, [and] determined the Lexus was traveling 100.7 miles per hour before the crash. Detectives from the scene determined the car was airborne for approximately 130 feet.” 

According to state data, since 2011, this half-mile stretch of Lee Chapel Road-between Ox Road and the Fairfax County Parkway-has been the site of 243 vehicle crashes resulting in 148 injuries and three deaths, including the crash that killed 19-year-old Dilbar Noory. In 2015, Noory lost control while driving over the same hill on this road. Community calls to fix Lee Chapel road are at an all-time high, and a petition calling for changes has received more than 13,500 signatures. 

In response to the recent tragedy, the Virginia Department of Transportation–the state agency that owns this road, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, and county leaders gathered on Jan. 18 to propose improvements to Lee Chapel Road. Herrity acknowledges that changes to fix hills, curves, and turns are needed, and some of these changes were presented in 2015 and again in 2017. However, Herrity admits none of the proposals were implemented due to budgetary constraints and remain on the unfunded priority list. Until changes are funded, “I’m looking for an interim solution right now,” Herrity said.

Some possible short-term solutions include rumble strips, more signage, and improved lighting along the road. However, these changes are not enough for some residents. 

“My family and I had an accident in 2013 on that stretch of road when another driver came across the middle of the road, and we had nowhere to go as there are no shoulders on this part of the road, shared Michelle Motes on social media. “Our vehicle turned over several times and was totaled.” 

Fellow Burke resident Jill Tastrophe had a similarly harrowing experience. “I almost died on the same road in 2018, and I had over 17 surgeries and spent over a month in the hospital,” she said. 

Lee Chapel Road has “optical speed bars” which were installed in 2006. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the series of painted lines are intended to increase drivers’ perception of speed and cause them to reduce speed. Several days after the accident, VDOT updated the optical speed bars. 

“I drive that road a few times a week late afternoon; a week after the accident, I noticed VDOT repainted the lanes closer to the hill on both sides. [They] even added some markers. I believe a street light could make a huge difference,” said Burke resident Vanina Rodriguez.

“This is one of a number of roads in the district and countywide that are left over from Fairfax County’s older, rural past that can be unsafe in modern times with our higher traffic volumes and faster vehicles,” tweeted Herrity. To bring Lee Chapel Road into the modern era, residents are encouraging county leadership to add lights, rumble strips, shoulders and even widen the road from two to four lanes, a project proposal that Herrity backed in previous years. 

After a meeting with VDOT and FCDOT officials, Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, Herrity proposed a board matter on Jan. 24 addressing the issue. County leadership approved a motion for future changes to Lee Chapel Road but funding is still undetermined. 

“The Board unanimously approved my motion to direct Fairfax County Department of Transportation to look at eliminating the hills on Lee Chapel Road and potential sources of funding for the project,” tweeted Herrity. The motion also “directs the public works department to look at the feasibility of streetlights and the Park Authority to look at clearing the shoulder areas on the adjacent parkland. These interim changes should be designed with the ultimate goal of the four-lane widening currently envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan.”

As residents await long-term changes, Lee Chapel Road is still a necessary route for commuting. Parents are cautioning their teens to be more vigilant drivers. 

“We don’t avoid it or discourage our teens from driving it. We do talk about the risks of speeding on it and being careful with oncoming lights blinding you,” said Heidi Oh. Other parents have noticed how the accident has impacted their teen drivers. 

“My 17-year-old son was devastated by what happened, having lost two of his friends. I believe it has impacted his outlook with driving, especially on that portion of Lee Chapel that we know is notoriously dangerous,” said Stacey Street.