Golf cart access may expand

Published 6:42 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Residents of the Cypress Creek and Moonefield neighborhoods who want to drive golf carts to downtown Smithfield may get their wish if waivers to state rules about the vehicles are granted.

Before the idea can come to pass, two issues with state rules exist. The first is that golf carts can only be driven on roads with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour or lower; both neighborhoods have a 35 mph stretch to get downtown. The second issue, which would specifically affect Cypress Creek, is that golf carts are not allowed to cross a road with a speed limit over 35 mph.

Smithfield Town Council’s Public Safety Committee introduced the idea at the council’s meeting this month. The presentation was informational; no action was taken. Councilwoman Renee Rountree, who chairs the committee, said the change could boost tourism and revenue and that residents have asked her for access by golf cart between the neighborhoods and downtown.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I believe allowing golf carts to safely pass into the downtown corridor would boost meals and sales tax revenue and add to the charm of our community for our residents and guests,” Rountree said. “There are already golf-cart-only parking spots painted downtown, in anticipation of this trend. Of course we will balance this opportunity with safety issues.”

Another issue is cart drivers from Cypress Creek would currently encounter a fence between the overpass and the town property near Windsor Castle Park. That issue will have to be taken to the Virginia Transportation Safety Board and negotiated with VDOT, Rountree said.

Rountree said Smithfield Police Department Chief Alonzo Howell has been in communication with the police chief in Colonial Beach, which is a golf cart-friendly community. Colonial Beach sought and received waivers for some of the state golf cart rules. She said the Northern Neck town has “not had any increase in safety problems or accidents” since the waivers were implemented.

The committee has also consulted with the Virginia Department of Transportation and state Delegate Emily Brewer, who represents the 64th District. “I would like to continue to work with Delegate Brewer, who did submit legislation supportive of our desired change in the current (General Assembly) session, and also with the Virginia Transportation Safety Board, to appropriately move this initiative forward,” Rountree said.

In an email, Smithfield Town Manager Michael Stallings said, “We are working with Del. Brewer on some potential changes to state code that would allow the golf carts to operate in areas with speed limits higher than 25 mph and to cross roadways with speed limits higher than 35. We do not have the specific language of these modifications from Del. Brewer yet.”

Town Councilwoman Valerie Butler said she has safety concerns about golf carts crossing Route 10.

“To have a golf cart come from Cypress Creek to downtown Smithfield, the initial route that was given to us was coming down Great Springs Road and crossing over Route 10. And I’m thinking if that’s the way we’re looking at, definitely not,” said Butler, who is also a Public Safety Committee member. “I can’t imagine a golf cart crossing Route 10 with tractor-trailers and the speed limit being 55.”

In August 2019, a Maryland man on a golf cart stolen from Cypress Creek Golf Course was killed in a crash on the Route 10 bypass. Police said the golf cart had no lights and was eastbound in the highway’s westbound lane around just before 1 a.m. when the cart and a sedan collided. Police said alcohol was involved on the part of both drivers.

Butler said it’s not yet clear how much the project would cost, how it would be paid for or what other initiatives might be adjusted to accommodate the golf carts. “How is it going to take priority over the bike trail, which has already been on the books for 20-plus years? So unless we get grant money or some other type of money to pay for the infrastructure for the golf carts, I don’t really even know how that would be paid for right now.”

Based on the information available so far, Butler said she is “leaning toward not being on board” with the idea of expanding routes for golf carts. But she echoed Rountree and Stallings in acknowledging the idea is still in the preliminary stages.

The idea, Butler said, has not gotten to the point “where we’ve actually discussed what route we’re going to take, what safety measures we’re going to take, how it’s going to affect law enforcement. We haven’t gotten to any of that.”