Brandy Station: Stevensburg Road Project Update

Last Monday the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) held another public meeting with regard to the project to widen Virginia Highway 3 through Stevensburg.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, this project directly affects ground on the Brandy Station battlefield, and traverses part of the core battlefield.

The public meeting brought forward concerns from several perspectives.  Many of the local residents would prefer alternatives to road widening.  On the other hand, as pointed out in this article in the Culpeper Star-Exponent, some locals see the road widening as a safety measure.  In deference to the historical significance of the area, VDOT has submitted alternatives.  But all of which require purchase of land within the Brandy Station Battlefield Historic District (which for the record is in the later phase of the full designation process).

The Star-Exponent’s report from the Monday meeting offers some insight into the different positions made by residents.   Earlier VDOT proposed a bypass around Stevensburg, but that option fell outside the bounds allowed under Federal funding (and might have required more incursions into the historic areas).   As things stand now, the four lane option is the leading contender.  VDOT will support lowering the speed limit to 45 m.p.h. through the town.

One response in favor of the plans notes that the highway through Stevensburg is the last section of Virginia 3 that is two-lane.  I’d respond by pointing out that the same situation exists for sections of both US 15 and US 50 passing through parts of Loudoun and Fauquier Counties.  In those cases, the road sees far heavier traffic and also passes through sensitive historic grounds.

The notion that simply reducing the speed limit to 45 m.p.h. will make the passage safer is, to be blunt, road apples.  While I would respect the intent of those to “make” law enforcement patrol that section of road, I would ask what will happen two or three years from now when another section of road becomes the “priority.”  According to reports on the National Highway Administration (NHWA) web site, often simply adding more lanes to rural intersections has a detrimental affect on safety, regardless of speed limits.  Instead, traffic calming measures are more effective where safety is a concern.

VDOT representatives also indicated other options were on the table to include roundabouts, a traffic calming technique.  Again looking to the US 15 and US 50 example, such were placed on the dangerous intersection just east of Aldie, Virginia about two years back.  I’ll admit I was skeptical at the time.  That intersection was among the most dangerous and congested in the state.  But now it is a safe and speedy transit.  The same can be done at Stevensburg, and probably at a lot lower cost.  I am hopeful that VDOT will present plans that incorporates these traffic calming measures at the next public meeting.

However, there is one other point I’d make here with regard to the discussions about Stevensburg.  One voice was notably silent throughout the discussions – The Brandy Station Foundation.  Several attendees confirmed Joe McKinney, the foundation’s president, was present at the meeting, but said nothing.  That does not surprise me.

When I was on the Brandy Station Foundation Board, we asked Mr. McKinney his views of the situation at Stevensburg.  Without making any direct points, he simply said that, “the residents of Stevensburg—those most affected—should be at the forefront of defending their own interests.”  He further elaborated that the foundation should, after stating the facts regarding historical sites, just sit back and await the end of deliberations and respect the wishes of VDOT and the local residents.

Which of course, runs contrary to the foundation’s stated goal “to ensure the history and heritage of the area is not “paved over” in our rush to progress.”   I don’t know how more square the “T” must be to provide an example where history and heritage is being paved over in the rush to progress, than this situation at Stevensburg.

So in short, what we have here is another addendum to the “McKinney Policy” as posted to the Brandy Station Foundation’s website.   In addition to squelching objections when land owners conduct whole-scale development on core battlefield lands (so long as the list of possibilities includes reversing those changes no matter what the cost!), now the foundation will likewise remain silent when government projects threaten the battlefield.  All in the name of “keeping the local landowners happy” of course….  Oh, and to keep the “radical preservationists” from standing in the way of progress.  As I’ve said earlier, the Brandy Station Foundation has ceased to be a preservation organization.

Now is the time for an organization that is not afraid to speak, and speak loudly, for the Brandy Station Battlefield.