Manassas By-Pass: Relief or Threat?

Since I’m thinking about the Second Manassas sesquicentennial later this month, it is only fitting to mention possible developments around that section of the battlefield, which are making rounds in the local news.

Some time back I posted about the proposed Tri-County Parkway aimed at relieving some of the traffic pressures in Northern Virginia. This proposal seems to raise up with frequency – each time cut off short after public hearings. And once again the same basic proposal is offered up as a solution to traffic congestion. From the WAMU radio website:

From A To B: Virginians Debate How To Handle Traffic At Manassas Battlefield

Virginia transportation officials are drawing closer to an agreement with the National Park Service as part of a plan to build a major four-lane divided highway connecting Route 7 in Loudoun County to Interstate-66 in Prince William County, what opponents charge will be the first piece of an outer beltway in northern Virginia.

Negotiations with the Park Service involve a proposal to build the new road along the western edge of Manassas National Battlefield Park in exchange for closing – except to visitors – the two heavily traveled roads (Routes 234 and 29) that currently crisscross the park.

The new bi-county parkway would pave over 12 acres of the Manassas historic district and four acres of actual battlefield land on the periphery of the property away from where most of the fighting occurred during the Second Battle of Manassas from Aug. 28-20, 1862. As the 150th anniversary of that key Confederate victory approaches, opponents say the new road will create more sprawl and development, turning the hallowed ground into a “median strip.”

(Read More)

The article goes on to indicate the project has support from the National Park:

“It becomes a balancing act between what you are giving up and what you are gaining,” says Ed Clark, the superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park.

For giving up a few acres out of seven square miles of battlefield ground, the National Park Service hopes to gain a better experience for tourists. The Commonwealth Transportation Board understands that the National Park Service will not agree to a new highway along the Manassas battlefield’s western edge unless Routes 234 and 29 are closed through the park, Clark says.

“The road we are primarily interested in is the Manassas Battlefield Bypass,” he says, referring to a separate project that would circle the western and northern park boundaries, overlapping a future north-south highway along the battlefield’s western side.

“It would enable us to remove all of the [park] traffic, as most folks in northern Virginia are aware how serious the traffic is along the I-66 corridor,” Clark says. “That traffic does detract significantly from the battlefield experience from this hallowed ground.”

If you have visited Manassas, you know well the problem with congestion at the intersection of US 29 and Virginia 234. A by-pass is many years overdue. That part of this story I like.

Other aspects I don’t like. Consider this map from the Piedmont Environmental Council:

Outer Beltway Map

Now re-branded the Outer Beltway, the proposed corridors promise to clear traffic off I-95, bypassing the inner beltway. The Manassas bypass is depicted as one part of that web of multi-lane highways.

As I said last year, I’m skeptical these proposals would ease the ills of Northern Virginia’s commuter traffic. Generally we drive east-west in the areas targeted for this improvement. Those to the south, from Woodbridge down through Stafford, don’t generally travel to the Manassas area for work, but rather north on I-95 (or similarly gridlocked parallel routes). Simply put, the proposed new highways will do little to fix the traffic problem. Worse, it traverses through several parks, conservation easements, and forest lands – certainly a threat to several preservation efforts… and a number of Civil War related sites.

By itself, the Manassas by-pass makes sense. I have some reservations about trading battlefield ground (hard fought for preserved dirt and grass mind you!) for pavement. However if it solves the problem of congestion on the battlefield, that may be a good trade-off in the long run. But I have serious reservations about linking the bypass in with the larger proposed outer beltway corridor.

Once again, my local commuter traffic problem begets a preservation concern.

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