Dangers of Rt. 20 in Scottsville

Contributed by Evelyn Edson, president
Scottsville Museum

In our last post, we wrote about the decision in 1969 to locate the community college near Charlottesville instead of one of the proposed sites near Scottsville.  One issue raised was the danger of navigating Rt. 20, now Scottsville Road, the main link between Scottsville and Charlottesville.  It was narrow and had lots of curves.  In October 1968, Scottsville had sent a distinguished delegation of citizens to a hearing in Richmond to plead for improvements.  Among those testifying was John A. Smart of the Albemarle Livestock Market who pointed out that trucks carrying livestock had to travel slowly “because of the problem of throwing the animals around the curves.”  The Rev. Leroy Kinney of Union Baptist Church called Rt. 20 “a killer road,” and Dr. Richard Marks, chairman of a highway safety committee, said that four persons had already died on the road so far that year.

After numerous appeals to VDOT, part of Rt. 20 was straightened and widened in the 1970s, most notably the stretch between the new Scottsville School and Keene.  Carter’s Bridge was also rebuilt.  Construction crews, flag persons, and ensuing delays led most of us bound for Charlottesville to find ingenious back ways to get to town.

Shortly after the new stretch was completed, there was a spectacular and tragic accident.  A pickup full of young people, tempted by the new straight road, geared up to speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.  The truck crashed, and five of the seven in the truck were killed.  The only survivors were a girl riding in the back, who was miraculously thrown free, and the driver, who was seriously injured.  Those of us who regularly drive home to Scottsville are well aware of the impatience of drivers on the relatively straight section of the road south of Keene.  They feel that 55 mph is way too slow.

And there are still plenty of curves on Rt. 20, from the notorious Five-Mile Curve to the curve by Walton Middle School.  Then as you approach Scottsville, the road narrows.  Searching on the web, I found a number of references to the present dangers of Rt. 20.  My own family experienced a terrible crash at Five-Mile Curve in 1980.  Driving home from seeing a movie in town (“Star Wars”), our VW bus was hit head on by a driver trying to pass on that blind curve.  The driver was killed, and in our car, the driver and the passenger in the front seat were badly hurt.  Letters to the editor of the Daily Progress described the dangers of the road then, but, of course, any road is dangerous if people drive on the wrong side.

The straightening of the road came too late to boost Scottsville’s bid for the community college.  

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