Story by Chris Graham
An accident that killed a mother and her two young daughters in Nelson County this summer happened 75 yards from the front door of Tommy Stafford’s office.
“We knew we needed to do something,” said Stafford, the founder of Project151.org, a web portal that is serving as a launching pad for a community effort to get Nelson County and the Commonwealth Transportation Board to take needed steps to improve traffic safety on the congested Va. 151.The state highway is a popular cut-through for truck drivers looking to reduce travel times between Interstate 64 at Afton Mountain and Lynchburg – the road connects to U.S. 250 at the bottom of the mountain and Va. 6 and U.S. 29 in Central Nelson County.
It is also a main connector between the interstate and the Wintergreen Resort.
Project151.org is pushing for improvements to the highway infrastructure that will ease congestion such as the addition of turning lanes and roundabouts in some locations – but Stafford said the organization does not support the idea of doing any kind of major expansion of the route that would threaten the rural quality of the region.
A focal point for Project151.org is the institution of restrictions on pass-through semi trucks.
“We’re not anti-trucking. I say that in every presentation or public-speaking engagement I’m in. I’m very much a capitalist person. I believe that we have to have the trucking industry to make the country run,” Stafford said in an interview for this week’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”
“We just think it’s better served elsewhere – because just the normal ebb and flow of traffic out here, passenger cars and passenger trucks that are going through here, the thousands a day that go in and out of here, we’re having trouble with just those getting through. And then you add 50-, 60-, 65-foot semis that are trying to negotiate through here, too, and it just becomes a real difficult thing,” Stafford said.
“We feel as an organization that they’re better served if they stay on a billion-dollar interstate and a multimillion-dollar U.S. four-lane divided highway such as U.S. 29 rather than using a two-lane winding rural road that was created decades ago that never envisioned the kind of traffic that it’s seeing today. And that’s exactly what’s happened. That’s one of the reasons why we would like to see the semis – the ones that are not making local deliveries or are not involved in local commerce – moved strictly to the interstate,” Stafford said.
Project151.org is lobbying the Nelson County Board of Supervisors to formally ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board to limit long-haul truck traffic on the highway.
“The county board of supervisors has yet to ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board officially – they have had some informal discussions – but have not officially made a request to them to limit long-haul truck traffic down through this road. And you’re going to get a bunch of responses saying why they can’t. But they’ve yet to even make that formal request – and without that formal request, the Commonwealth Transportation Board and/or VDOT can’t even deny it,” Stafford said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.