by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

7 September 2012, pp. 14-15

” ‘The battlefield is overrun with traffic.  Its historical integrity is being lost, and there’s a negative impact on the historical nature of this hallowed ground,’ Sean Connaughton, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, told the Bull Run Observer late Aug. 30 via telephone from his Richmond office.

“Connaughton is very familiar with Manassas National Battlefield Park.  He is a former chairman of Prince William Board of County Supervisors and lives in the county.

“The state’s top transpo official explained that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is nearing agreement with the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) to find a way to build a Manassas Battlefield Bypass.

“This would take traffic around the park and then join the proposed Tri-County Parkway north of the park.

“Both roadways have had their supporters and detractors in the area for several years.  The bypass is a project of NPS and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), while the Tri-County Parkway is on VDOT’s project list.

“The bypass ‘would be an alternative to Rte. 234 and Rt. 29 in the battlefield.  Our intent is to let us close those roads in the battlefield by building alternative routes around it, and getting local and commuter traffic out of there,’  Connaughton said.

“According to Ed Clark, the bypass would start where VA 234 ends at Interstate 66, go over US 29 and along Pageland Lane, then through Catharpin and over Braddock Road, ending at US 50 west of Dulles International Airport.  Clark is superintendent of Manassas Natinal Battlefield Park.

“Clark noted Aug. 30 that ‘the amount of explosive growth in south Loudoun County’ concerns the park service.  He asserted that it is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States.

” ‘Gum Springs Road used to be two lands through farmland.  Now the farmland is gone, and there are thousands of homes there.  Loudoun County wants to have Gum Springs Road six lanes into Prince William County,’ he reported.  Gum Springs Road then would send its traffic to VA 234, a two-lane thoroughfare.

“The superintendent said the battlefield park is ‘a huge economic benefit to the area, contributing annually about $10 million and 200 jobs.’

“The battlefield  bypass and the Tri-County Parkiway would share the same alignment near the battlefield, according to Maria Sinner of VDOT’s Northern Virginia office.

“The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) set aside $4 million in its recently-approved FY 2013-2018 six-year improvement plan to do the bypass design phase, and $5 million toward the parkway project.

“But not everyone is pleased with the Tri-County Parkway proposal.  Joy Oakes of the National Parks Conservation Association contends VDOT recently came up with a draft agreement it wants with the NPS, and that the state needs NPS approval because the parkway ‘would use four acres of battlefield.’

“She added that an analysis by Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) shows ‘that up to 35 acres of the historic district’ around the park would be affected.

“Oakes contends her group ‘hasn’t been at the table’ in the parkway discussions ‘in a meaningful way.’  A press release from her organization says a coalition of national and local groups sent formal comments to VDOT, pointing out ‘significant shortcomings in its proposed agreement with the National Park Service.’

” ‘The coalition’s comment emphasized the need to analyze a low-build alternative, including the need to focus on improvements to east-west commuter routes like I-66 and Highway 50, and context-sensitive upgrades to local roads that would better address traffic and better protect and preserve the historic character of the park without unnecessary noise and traffic impacts on the battlefield,’ the press release explained.  It asserted the parkway would be part of an outer beltway and is being promoted by VDOT ‘to increase the movement of truck cargo to and from Dulles International Airport.’

“Oakes said ‘every reasonable alternative to meeting traffic demands without damaging the battlefield’ should be explored.

” ‘Our biggest beef is not looking at alternatives,’ she reported, adding a thorough analysis of alternatives is called for.  She suggested looking at bus lanes on US 50 and building roundabouts like the one at Gilbert’s Corner.

“Oakes asserts that since VDOT would be building both the bypass and the parkway, they should be looked at together — not as separate processes.

” ‘This is an irreplaceable natural and historical resource with meadows, grasses and habitat for birds.  Wed need to take all reasonable steps to avoid harming the battlefield,’ Oakes observed.

“The National Parks Conservation Association contends the Tri-County Parkway would have a 200-foot right-of-way, up to six lanes of traffic and would lead to more traffic noise, would damage the battlefield’s historic character and trigger more development and traffic.

” ‘Commuter traffic through Manassas National Battlefield jeopardizes both the park and its 650,000 annual visitors,’ Oakes noted.  ‘Diverting commuter traffic out of the national park is a top priority; however, VDOT’s plan shows that the Tri-County Parkway would make traffic in the park even worse.’

“The draft agreement between NPS and VDOT on the parkway is ‘out for review,’ according to Sinner.

“Oakes said her gruop and other ‘consulting parties’ would ask for a meeting with VDOT on the project.”