Screengrab from part 3 of the NCT articles on Route 151 in Nelson County, Virginia
In the third and final part of their series, The Nelson County Times Newspaper looks at how the community has responded over the past year to improvements along Route 151 in Nelson County, Virginia
By Erin McGrath
Nelson County Times
Published: October 29, 2008
A year ago, two vehicle accidents killed four people on Va. 151 in Nelson County, making it the deadliest year for motorists on the road in a decade.
Alarming as the deaths were, the accidents galvanized the community to begin to make changes on the 18-mile scenic byway that runs from Va. 833 near Brent’s Gap to Va. 250 near Avon, to make it safer.
That was no small challenge.
An average of about 60 accidents that were occurring per year, with more than 30 injuries and one death per year, until citizen groups were formed, speed limits were dropped and new signage was posted along the route.
These changes seemed to be working, authorities say.
Only 13 accidents occurred on Va. 151 from January to July 31, injuring five people. That total is less than half the number of accidents that occur during that time frame in previous years.
The two wrecks that got statewide attention happened in the fall of last year.
On Aug. 30, 2007, Laura Cavedo, 48 and her two daughters, Elschen Strickler, 12 and Iliana Strickler, 9, were killed near the intersection of Va. 151 and Va. 635 and 33 days later, on Oct. 2, 2007, Gertrude Ann Johnson, 54, was killed near the intersection of Va. 151 and Va. 840.
In September of 2007, a group of citizens formed Project 151, which is a non-profit group formed to improve safety along Va. 151 and Va. 6 in Nelson County.
“When three people are killed outside your front door, it makes an impact. We just said enough was enough,” Project 151 spokesman Tommy Stafford said during a public meeting the organization held last October. “We couldn’t ignore it.”
During a recent interview, Stafford said he thinks there will always be a need for the organization.
“Last year was unprecedented. Something had to be done,” Stafford said. “I think we need to always be around, just as a kind of check and balances group.”
Last October, a group of citizens, elected officials, law enforcement officers and the Virginia Department of Transportation were formed as the Route 151 Working Group to discuss changes needed along the road to make it safer.
“It’s the usual thing,” Nelson County Central District Supervisor Connie Brennan said. “It takes a horrible thing to get people galvanized to make change happen. It’s a bad road.”
Physical changes to the road included lower speed limits and new signs.
Last December, the speed limit from the intersection of Va. 151 and Va. 6 East near Martin’s Store to three-tenths of a mile past the intersection of Va. 151 and Va. 784 near Greenfield was dropped from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour.
This was an area VDOT had seen as a dangerous one.
“The 664 to 250 was really what we determined was the big area of emphasis as we looked at where the accidents were happening,” VDOT representative Kevin Wright said. “That was where our trouble spots were.”
New highway signs proclaiming “areas of increased enforcement” were also posted last December.
Wright said the road isn’t where they would like it to be, but it is better than what it was.
“When I look at the number of crashes that are occurring on that section of road it has gone from one of the worst to one of the safest roads in the county,” he said.
There are more changes coming down the pipeline.
On Nov. 12, North Distirct Supervisor Tommy Harvey and Central District Supervisor Connie Brennan will hold a town hall meeting at the Rockfish Valley Community Center at 7 p.m. to discuss Va. 151 and other topics.
The supervisors will be there to discuss anything, Harvey said, but hope to have representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation there as well.
“We’ll review where we’ve come from and where we’re going in the future,” Harvey said. “We need input and help. We can’t just do it by ourselves as supervisors.”
Almost $1 million in funding was approved for turn lanes at the Va. 151 and Va. 635 intersection and Wright said preliminary design work has begun on that project.
In August, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors formally asked for the speed limit from Nellysford to the intersection of Va. 151 and Va. 6 east to be lowered from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour.
Wright said VDOT is also working to obtain federal funds for centerline traffic rumble strips to be placed along Va. 151.
We’re hoping to authorize the funds very soon on that so we can start putting a contract together on that to get the work done,” Wright said.
Kendall Cavedo Maynard, of North Carolina, is the sister of Cavedo. She said she has noticed some of the changes, but not all, made since last year during some of her trips to Nelson.
“I am very impressed by all the changes that I have noticed and extremely grateful to the residents and officials in the community that made them,” Maynard said.
“My sister would have wanted all the changes possible to make it safer for everyone. I thank the community and believe they have truly honored the memory of my sister and nieces.”