NPS Seeks Removal of Loose Gravel On Lee Drive
Can the National Park Service and Virginia Paving get all of the excess gravel off of Lee Drive by June 9? Time will tell. But the chief ranger said speeding has dropped on Lee Drive since the chip-and-seal was added.
The National Park Service has asked Virginia Paving to remove the loose gravel on Lee Drive before the Cabot Cheese Community Tour comes here on June 9.
National Park Service supervisors, Virginia Paving, subcontractors, and park staff met Wednesday morning to discuss the paving project on Lee Drive, said Russ Smith, the superintendent of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
None at the meeting expected the project to turn controversial, but it has upset local cyclists, who said the gravel is unsafe and difficult to ride on.
This week, the Fredericksburg Cyclists Club created a petition that has more than 300 signatures already. The petition is online based and Olde Towne Bicycles had a paper petition.
Smith provided the following statement via email on Wednesday afternoon:
"When we discussed Lee Drive, the contractor said that the sub-contractor, who does a lot of chip seal work throughout Virginia, wanted the gravel to stay on the road at least a month," Smith said. "This is so the gravel is well-compacted and we don't end up with a tar slurry on the road in late July. We informed the contractor that there are places on the road where there seems to be an overly generous amount of gravel and that there is a bike event on June 9th that we are concerned about. The contractor will be looking at the road to see if some of the loose gravel can be removed right away. He will also be assessing how much longer the gravel needs to remain to see if we can have it removed by June 9."
Today, Smith provided another update: "I was out there with the contractor this morning," Smith said today. "On North Lee, which gets more traffic, more of the gravel has been moved the side. The contractor will see what he can do about picking some of that up tomorrow. The sub-contractor, who actually did the work and is the specialist in chip seal, will look at Lee Drive on Monday with an eye toward seeing whether all the remaining gravel can be removed by June 9."
Terry Dorn, president of the Fredericksburg Cyclists Club, said NPS officials should've consulted with cyclists and other park stakeholders before taking on this project. A January 2012 NPS report for the Northeast Region on transportation safety management systems that Dorn supplied to Fredericksburg Patch states that stakeholders, including park stakeholders, should be included in the decision-making process to help identify traffic problems and potential solutions. The report states that by using a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach, "park stakeholders can comment on, modify, suggest new approaches, or eliminate any countermeasures that are not acceptable in the park context early in the study process. They can also help to identify proactive countermeasures based on their observations of locations where traffic operations are not optimal or where 'near misses' occur, and where there is minimal or no documentation of crashes."
"To the best of my knowledge that was not done," Dorn said.
Smith said there was not a stakeholders meeting because this was a routine project. Lee Drive hasn't had a chip-and-seal in decades, Smith said, but it has been done before. The contractors said chip-and-seal extends the life of the road five to seven years.
"We didn't feel like we had a controversial issue," he said. "Parks put down chip-and-seal surfaces all the time."
In another safety report from September 2010, it only lists one major crash on Lee Drive from Nov. 28, 1992, when a drunken driver crashed into a tree. Smith said the NPS didn't have any hard data on speeding that was used to make the decision to chip-and-seal to slow down motorists. But the law enforcement rangers are out in the field daily and have seen the speed problems and have taken numerous complaints, he added. Plus, Smith said half of the tickets that rangers write in the National Park are on Lee Drive.
NPS Chief Ranger Keith Kelly said he patrols Lee Drive every day and there is definitely a speeding problem. He said "share the road" signs were added, and the speed limit for the end closest to Fredericksburg at the Lafayette Boulevard entrance was lowered from 30 mph to 25 mph, but the north ends remains 30 mph up to Lansdowne Road.
"My office is on Lee Drive as well as three other of the rangers, so we are in and out of here all of the time," he said. "Since the road has been like its been for the last three weeks the speed has decreased a lot. And there has been a lot of issues between cars, bikers and walkers. They all complain about each other. A lot of people stop in the office here to complain about it."
Fredericksburg Police Department spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe said the National Park Service has primary jurisdiction on Lee Drive, but police officers do have authority to make arrests, follow up on investigations and check suspicious activity on Lee Drive.
"We do not patrol Lee Drive for traffic infractions," she said. "We have not written any speeding tickets in the past year for drivers who were observed to be speeding on Lee Drive. There are a very few houses which have Lee Drive addresses and we have jurisdiction for investigations at those addresses."