Increased Tourism Raises Safety Concerns Along Route 151

Afton, VA - VDOT is looking for ways to improve driver safety on Route 151 in Nelson County.

Over the past few decades, the road has gone from a sleepy back country trail to a major thoroughfare.

It has lots of tourists, with the breweries, restaurants, and Wintergreen Resort all being major attractions.

That, coupled with a growing population, has put more drivers and more danger onto that road.

"Nelson County has gotten a lot more interesting in my opinion with the 151 corridor and the things that we have to offer here," said Wild Wolf brewery owner, Mary Wolf.

On Saturdays, she says her business is so packed you're lucky if you can even snag a seat.

"It's a good problem to have. We're actually expanding a couple more buildings, just to keep up with that" said Wolf.

Her story is similar to so many on the 151 corridor.

Since 2007, restaurants, three major breweries, and wineries have all popped up, bringing with them, drivers.

"It's gotten a lot better over the last several years since the speed limit was reduced and we had a period there where we had several deaths" said Wolf.

In 2007, five people were killed on Route 151.

Those fatalities prompted VDOT to lower the speed limit from 55 to 45 miles per hour on one section of the road.

But just six years later, the population has grown tremendously, and tourists come in droves.

"Sometimes you have to wait a long time and it can be more hazardous pulling in and out. I know there have been some accidents further up the road there" said one driver.

VDOT reports there have been 111 accidents between 2008 and 2011 on Route 151.

Those wrecks are forcing them to look at the road's safety once again.

"We have conducted field work and looked at about 13 different intersections, plus additional areas along the corridor" said VDOT Project Manager, Rick Youngblood.

VDOT officials say, in time, changes must be made to lower the risks, as the area's tourism and traffic continue to increase.

"It's not hard to check out any of the breweries on a weekend and see all the traffic going in and out" said Wolf.

The study is still in its preliminary stage and won't be completed for several months.

VDOT officials say some of the changes could come in the form of widening intersections, or adding turn lanes.

One option not on the table yet, is extending the road's 45 mile per hour speed limit through the entire corridor.