The Automobile Association of America has named last year's most dangerous intersections in Northern Virginia, providing fresh evidence that a surge in traffic on the region's streets is overwhelming the road network and in many cases compromising safety.

Fairfax County's 10 most dangerous intersections each had more than 50 accidents last year, according to the AAA. Leesburg Pike (Route 7) at Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) led the list with 67.

In Arlington County, the worst intersection--Columbia Pike at Glebe Road--had 42 accidents, while seven others in the county had 30 or more. In Alexandria, Oronoco Street at Washington Street had 20 accidents, the worst in that city last year.

Mantill Williams, a spokesman for the AAA's Potomac region, said all of the dangerous intersections share a trait: They all have too many cars trying to get through them each day.

"A lot of these intersections weren't designed to handle the number of vehicles that travel through them," Williams said.

In Fairfax, for example, Williams said 21,000 cars travel daily through the intersection of Route 123 and Burke Centre Parkway (Route 643) south of Fairfax City. It was never meant to handle that many cars, he said.

"When you have that type of volume combined with people being impatient, that's a recipe for having a large number of accidents," he said.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D) said older intersections are being overwhelmed by new traffic patterns as the county grows. As an example, she noted that Route 123 at Burke Centre Parkway has more traffic because drivers are trying to get to the nearby Fairfax County Parkway.

"With changing traffic patterns, we find high volumes in new places," she said.

Alexandria Mayor Kerry J. Donley (D) said the city already has begun making improvements to many of the intersections that AAA cited. The intersection of Duke and Walker streets, which the AAA said had 16 accidents last year, has just undergone a 12-month renovation, he said.

At the Seminary Road and Shirley Highway interchange, where 15 accidents occurred last year, improvement has been planned for years.

"I think it's helpful," Donley said of the AAA report. "It's good feedback for us. We monitor that information."

Donley said the AAA report can help to highlight the traffic problems on relatively minor secondary roads at a time when many people in the state legislature and in Congress are focused on such major projects as the Wilson Bridge and the Springfield "Mixing Bowl" interchange.

"It creates difficulty for us to compete for federal or state assistance for these smaller projects when so much attention is being paid to the larger ones," he said.

Hanley blamed the Virginia Department of Transportation for moving too slowly to address dangerous intersections like the ones highlighted in the AAA list. She said many intersections have been identified as problems for years and await VDOT action.

The state department each year approves a six-year plan that lists projects slated to be completed during that time period. But VDOT's critics say it often takes much longer to get a road or intersection built because of bureaucratic delays and funding problems.

"This is pointing out again how important it is to get things on the six-year plan done," said Hanley, a frequent critic of the transportation department.

Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for VDOT, said state officials are always concerned about improving unsafe situations.

"We work throughout the year with county police on identifying potentially dangerous intersections so that we can plan appropriate improvements for them," Morris said.

But she added that the AAA analysis may not identify the intersections that need the most work. An intersection with a lot of minor accidents could rank high on the AAA list, while another intersection with a handful of more serious crashes does not make the list.

"Which one is more dangerous?" she asked.

Williams said AAA is aware of that criticism. He said the organization plans to do a more thorough analysis next year, possibly ranking intersections by the amount of property damage and by the severity of injuries.

Until then, Williams said, the current study is helpful for motorists.

Donley agrees. "It's good information for the public," he said. "If they have that information, it potentially has a tendency to affect their behavior. You know you are coming to one of those intersections, you slow down and use more caution."


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