Battlefield bypass plans cause for dispute

Two roads run through it but a bypass around it won’t be better.

So say homeowner and preservationists groups about proposals to build a bypass north of Manassas National Battlefield Park that would take traffic off Va. 123 and U.S. 29. The existing roads transect the battlefield.

The Federal Highway Administration and National Park Service held a meeting to get public feedback Wednesday on their study authorized by Congress in 1988. The study team refined rough corridor “concepts” and mixed and matched them into five “alternatives.”

Four of the alternatives have the bypass north of the battlefield, and the last alternative calls for co-locating U.S. 29 alongside Interstate 66 as a bypass with a link north to Va. 234.

Approximately 200 people attended the meeting Wednesday, many wearing stickers that called for co-locating the bypass near I-66.

Betty Rankin, president of the Save the Battlefield Coalition, said a northern bypass would open up undeveloped tracts of land for developers, put a four-lane divided road near sites like Lee’s Overlook, and in one concept run through preservationist Annie Snyder’s front yard and a mass burial ground.

“This land had soldiers on it. The fact that the battlefield ends over there, that’s just a line for the park service,” Rankin said.

The park system purchases land for a battlefield on a budget and does not get all significant land, said Harvey Simon of Friends of the Manassas Battlefield Park. The parking lot to the Crackerbarrel restaurant on Va. 234 was where a mobile cannon battery was stationed in the Second Battle of Manassas. On the northwest side of the battlefield along Featherbed Lane, Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s forces were broken through by four charges by Union troops, he said.

“Concept 2A” that is used in three of the five build plans goes over a portion of that road, he said.

The battlefield’s borders have been under assault ever since it was created 60 years ago.

In the 1960s, Interstate 66 was originally proposed to go along U.S. 29. In the 1970s, Marriott wanted to build a theme park in the northwest area. In the 1980s, there was Developer Til Hazel with his shopping mall that took Snyder and eventually Congress to stop.

Historic and environmental impacts are all concerns for planners, said study project manager Jack Van Dop with the Federal Highway Administration. Any new road will run into cultural, environmental and residential features that dot the region, he said.

Susan Bupp, senior archeological planner for Parsons Group hired to manage the bypass study, said they are cataloging “hot spots” such as those Rankin pointed out. The spots will be included in a draft environmental impact statement, due out this fall.

“It appears to be a deliberate attempt to create confusion,” said Neal Knox, whose property east of Pageland Lane has an orange line drawn through it on a map. He said he’s owned property off Pageland for 10 years and finally moved into a new house this year.

The orange line has as many impacts on residents as the purple line on the map that would go west of Pageland through the Snyder family’s front yard as well as the plot of land a man tried to build a dirt raceway on last year.

But without a new north-south connection, traffic on local roads like Pageland Lane, Featherbed, and Va. 659 would slow to a crawl if Va. 234 were closed, said Van Dop.

“There’s still traffic on Va. 234. We can’t expect it to evaporate if we close 234,” he said.

Preservationists are concentrating on east-west traffic, but the real increase in traffic in the future is going to be north-south, said Parsons project manager Ken Mobley.

Less than half of the 28,000 vehicular trips going through the battlefield are on Va. 29, the other is north-south traffic and it has to go somewhere, he said.

Will it go on Va. 15, where traffic is forecasted to go from 13,000 to 17,600 daily trips? He said if nothing is done, traffic on Va. 234 going to Va. 659 into Loudoun is projected to go from 9,815 to 12,874.

Va. 28 is getting grade-separated interchanges in Fairfax and Loudoun, he said, but even then it is forecasted to have its daily load increase from 83,000 to 116,000 trips.

Rankin and other opponents including the Piedmont Environmental Council and Coalition for Smarter Growth say the north-south connection in the bypass plans is a piece of the long-sought outer Beltway that developers want.

“The Western Transportation Corridor has never been axed. It just appears with different names,” Rankin said.

Van Dop said he has heard those arguments, but that is not the point of the study. It is just to figure out how to get traffic around the battlefield so that Va. 234 and U.S. 29 can be closed to commuters so the battlefield environment is preserved.

Comments can still be submitted in the next 30 days. For comments or more information, contact Jack Van Dop, Federal Highway Administration at (703) 404-6283 or [email protected].