The McDonnell administration wants to build a highway through the Manassas National Battlefield Park and foes are mobilizing to black the initiative. Call the coming clash the Third Battle of Manassas.
Actually, no, don’t. The third battle occurred when mega-developer John. T. “Til” Hazel tried to build a giant mall next to the battlefield back in 1988. A fourth took place in 1994 when the Walt Disney Company tried to develop a major theme park near the battlefield, suffering a defeat as ignominious as General John Pope’s. So, it looks like the latest controversy is shaping up as the figurative Fifth Battle.
Last year, at the bidding of the McDonnell administration, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) ordered the Virginia Department of Transportation to begin developing a master plan for a north-south “corridor of statewide significance” on the western periphery of metropolitan Washington. That corridor would align with a long-proposed Tri-County Parkway that would link Interstate 95 with Washington Dulles International Airport.
Recently, VDOT has sought an agreement with the National Park Service to build the highway on 20 to 35 acres of land within and adjacent to the battlefield. Last week a coalition of conservation and smart-growth groups — the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Coalition for Smarter Growth — submitted formal comments detailing the project’s shortcomings.
“The proposed ‘Tri-County Parkway,’ with its 200-foot-wide right-of-way, up to six traffic lanes, and increased traffic and noise, would damage Manassas Battlefield’s historic character, trigger new development and traffic, and would set a bad precedent for building new highways through national battlefields and national parks across the nation,” stated the five organizations in a joint press release.
“Not since the threat of the Disney theme park in 1994 has Manassas National Battlefield been at such risk,” said Chris Miller, president of the PEC. “We urge Governor McDonnell and other decision makers to reject VDOT’s proposed highway in favor of a lower impact alternative.”
“Given the national significance of the battlefield park, VDOT should analyze all feasible and prudent alternatives to the new highway, but it has failed to do so,” said Morgan Butler, senior attorney for the SELC. “Moreover, the impacts of both the Tri County Parkway and the Manassas Battlefield Parkway should be analyzed together.”
The coalition is pressing for a “low-build alternative” that would focus on improvements to east-west commuter routes like I-66 and Highway 50, and upgrades to local roads that would avoid unnecessary noise and traffic impacts on the battlefield.
The McDonnell administration and its Northern Virginia business backers say that a north-south corridor is needed to provide congestion relief and expedite air cargo shipping in and out of Dulles. Such a corridor also might lead, in the indefinite future, to an additional crossing of the Potomac River.
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