Fairfax County leads all Virginia localities in its potential for disastrous traffic accidents involving trucks laden with hazardous cargoes, according to a three-year university study released yesterday.
The study by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University cited sections of the Capitol Beltway and Rte. 29-211 near Centreville as highways that should be "of greatest concern" to local officials.
Arlington roads as well as a stretch of Rte. 50 between Aldie in Loudoun County and Millwood in Clarke County were also mentioned as especially dangerous.
Virginia Tech engineering professor Dennis Price said the study was based on an analysis of the flow of hazardous materials around the state and the frequency of truck accidents.
His study comes at a time when several Fairfax groups are complaining about gasoline truck traffic on Rte. 236 (Little River Turnpike) between the beltway and the Fairfax City gasoline tank farm. The roadway has been the scene of several serious truck accidents in the last year, including one collision that destroyed a section of a beltway bridge.
Price said yesterday that a "combination of things," including unsafe roads, the design of highway exit ramps, or the "high density" of trucks carrying combustible, flammable, or radioactive chemicals, could be the reason why some areas ranked higher on the list than others.
"Ascertaining [why] really wasn't the goal of the study, however," Price said. "We're simply hoping that the report generates that sort of investigation. Are there safer routes to transport these substances? Are fire and rescue teams prepared to cope with the emergencies? These are the questions" the report hopes to raise, he said.
George H. Alexander, chief of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Services, said yesterday that his department is "amply aware" of the dangers of serious truck accidents in the county, "a major north-south route" for their transportation."
Alexander said that the county has several contingency plans for potential disasters.
"No matter what you do there will be problems, but we have the knowledge and the resources," he said.
Using a grant from the Virginia Division of Transportation Safety, Price and his survey team tracked cargoes of gasoline, corrosive chemicals and 14 other flammable, explosive and radioactive substances across the state. According to their projections, trucks carrying those items should be involved 240 traffic accidents during the next 10 years, he said.
"The thing that struck me most about this survey was the fact that 68 percent of the dangerous cargo involved flammable liquids or corrosives," involved radioactive substances."
Price also questioned whether truck drivers really know how their rigs will respond in emergency situations and suggested drivers train in truck simulators in the same manner that airline pilots prepare for emergency situations.