ORANGE — If you’ve driven on Rapidan Road heading in and out of Orange, you’ve seen speeding vehicles — or perhaps you’ve been behind the wheel of one.
According to neighborhood residents, the stretch between town limits and the intersection with Selma Road is especially hazardous.
Resident Kirsten Samuels said, “There’s just no getting around the volume and the excess speed” of cars and trucks on Rapidan Road, which becomes East Main Street in Orange.
Samuels and others have complained to the Orange Police Department, and now Police Chief Jim Fenwick plans to ask town council to pass an ordinance allowing him to create an “enhanced penalty speed zone” along that corridor. If council approves the measure, new signs will announce a $200 extra fine for those convicted of speeding in the 25 mph zone.
The chief currently is collecting speed data via an electronic speed feedback sign posted in the neighborhood. With that data in hand, he plans to make a presentation to council on Monday.
In a memo to council, Fenwick wrote, “As you are aware, we have been consistently receiving complaints about speeding on Rapidan Road. We have made concerted efforts to be down there as much as possible, and have written multiple tickets, including a recent 82 [mph] in a 25 [mph].”
He noted that an additional 25 mph speed limit sign near Boxley Lane “has helped highlight the issue to motorists coming into town, and that allows us to focus on motorists heading out of town.”
But the problem has not gone away.
Fenwick contends that the narrowness of the road, combined with poor visibility near the intersection with Boxley, makes it a dangerous place for police to stop speeders. He is hoping the threat of an extra $200 fine will make a difference.
“Our goal is to get people to slow down through there, hopefully on their own, by the potential of having that enhanced penalty,” he said.
The chief emphasized that the point is to make the neighborhood safer, not to make money off speeding tickets. “I want people to see that sign and say, ‘Oh, gee, I better slow down.’”
However, make no mistake: he intends to enforce the measure. “Will there be tickets? Unfortunately, yes.”
Orange Mayor Martha Roby said she is aware of the speeding on East Main Street as it turns into Rapidan Road.
“There’s been speeding there, definitely — coming into town from Rapidan and going out to Rapidan. Mostly where you see where the real speeding part of it is down from Selma Road on. The speed seems to pick up quickly from there on.”
She expects people will complain that the extra $200 added to a speeding ticket is all about making money, but like Fenwick, she said that is not the case.
“Since the pandemic [began], there’s just much more foot traffic on that road. People are walking more and they’re just out more. The town’s concern is public safety and health. Public safety is important; it really is, so we have to look at that.”
She said she worries about the possibility of a “freak accident” involving pedestrians, if a crash happens on East Main Street or Rapidan Road.
Orange County High School is on Selma Road, and the crosswalk at Selma and East Main is heavily traveled by students, families and people walking their dogs. Roby said she is especially concerned about vehicles speeding through that crosswalk and hitting a pedestrian: “Someone could get hurt easily there.”
She said residents of the neighborhood are “very worried” about the dangers of speeding and have indicated they think the problem has gotten worse in recent years.
For her part, Samuels said she has noticed a “marked increase in very large vehicular traffic” in the past two or three years, including logging trucks, UPS trucks and 18-wheel tractor-trailers as well as quarry trucks, “a known problem.”
“Logging trucks driving up East Main Street or past the high school—this seems ridiculous,” she said.
Grayson Butterfield, another neighborhood resident, said speeding trucks move so much air as they rush by that it is “shocking.” As for the cars zipping by, she said she regularly sees motorists “looking at their phones when they drive.”
Butterfield said she fears for her safety and that of everybody else walking around the neighborhood. Like Roby, she is very wary of speeders coming over the hill near Selma Road on their way out of Orange.
“They crest that hill and they’re on you before you can even get across the street. I find it with [both] trucks and cars.”
Orange Town Council will take up the traffic issue at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the community meeting room at 235 Warren St. Roby said she welcomes residents who want to voice their views on traffic during public comment.