Pocked Paths Now Commuter Corridors

Ed Taylor, a Centreville real estate agent, pauses only momentarily before driving his Jaguar into the waters of Bull Run at Peach Orchard Lane, where the shortcut into Loudoun County breaks, requiring the dip into about a foot of water.
Ed Taylor, a Centreville real estate agent, pauses only momentarily before driving his Jaguar into the waters of Bull Run at Peach Orchard Lane, where the shortcut into Loudoun County breaks, requiring the dip into about a foot of water. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In fast-growing southern Loudoun County, the desperation of commuters knows no bounds. Pavement? Not necessary. No bridge? No problem.

New drivers are joining the Loudoun throngs faster than the county's road network is expanding. And so thousands have settled on a dusty alternative: driving for miles on rutted dirt roads.

In one case, motorists are even fording a creek to enter Loudoun from Prince William County. That's right -- fording, as in driving through water. There is no bridge over Bull Run at Peach Orchard Lane, where about a foot of water babbles east across the unpaved road.

"I can make it," said Ed Taylor, a real estate agent with Long & Foster's Centreville office, who idled his Jaguar for only a moment before optimistically taking the plunge. Taylor was in the neighborhood scouting properties for clients -- a sign that traffic will only increase in this rural corner of the county.

Victor Tate, a plumber who lives on five acres overlooking the Bull Run ford, said he sees a couple dozen cars cross each day. "It's low right now," he said of the water. "It's no problem getting through."

Peach Orchard Lane is hardly a thoroughfare, but several other dirt roads are fast becoming key routes as drivers search for shortcuts. Near Leesburg, residents of Lansdowne and River Creek are braving the unpaved Edwards Ferry Road to reach the Route 15 shopping corridor.

And many drivers from Prince William avoid congested Gilbert's Corner by hitting unpaved Lenah Road, which connects Routes 15 and 50.

Braddock Road, by most accounts, is the best example of dirt road as commuter corridor. Named for Gen. Edward Braddock, who led Britain's North American forces west during the French and Indian War, the road doesn't appear to have changed much in Loudoun County since the 18th century.

The narrow, cratered roadway stretches northwest about eight miles from Fairfax County to Route 15, and it is unpaved most of the way. That doesn't stop motorists from making 3,000 trips on it each day, according to a county study. Most of them bounce along during morning and evening rush hours, avoiding pothole after pothole and pulling over to let oncoming drivers pass.

Along the way are thousands of houses: South Riding, Kirkpatrick Farms, Cedar Hunt. These communities have helped make the Dulles South area one of the fastest-growing quarters of the region. They have poured many new drivers onto nearby roads. And Braddock, among others, has not kept up.

"My car's an all-wheel drive, so I have a chance to test it out on the potholes," said Adam Borbidge, 27, an engineer who on his evening commute drives his Subaru Forester on Braddock to the back entrance of South Riding, where he and his wife own a townhouse. The alternative is a more roundabout route that involves a left turn onto Route 50.

"If I had to do it any length of time," he said, "it would be more painful."


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company