Controversial Proposed Highway in Virginia Would Slice Through Civil War Battlefield as the Nation Observes Battle’s 150th Anniversary
As the nation observes the 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Manassas, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is seeking an agreement with the National Park Service (NPS) that would force through a new highway on 20 to 35 acres of historic battlefield land within and adjacent to Manassas National Battlefield Park. 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. Worse, the new highway is not necessary to meet the National Park Service's goal to reduce commuter traffic through the Manassas National Battlefield Park.
"Commuter traffic through Manassas National Battlefield jeopardizes both the park and its 650,000 annual visitors," said Joy Oakes, senior regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "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."
Today marks the first day of fighting at the Second Battle of Manassas, a Confederate victory that empowered General Robert E. Lee's first invasion onto Union soil, culminating in the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, the single bloodiest day in American military history with about 23,000 casualties. Lee's subsequent retreat back into Virginia enabled President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which reshaped the war by giving the Union two goals: preserve the Union, and, end slavery.
The proposed Tri-County Parkway would scar the landscape and the public's quiet contemplation of the scene of fierce fighting at Brawner Farm on August 28, 1862. It would also sever the route of General Longstreet's undetected advance with his 28,000 troops, which led to the largest counterattack of the war and the Confederate victory.
"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 Piedmont Environmental Council. "We urge Governor McDonnell and other decision makers to reject VDOT's proposed highway in favor of a lower impact alternative."
"When our nation's hallowed ground is being considered for a new highway corridor, we need to be sure that every feasible and prudent alternative has been carefully considered, and that the proposed mitigation truly minimizes the potential impacts," said Elizabeth Merritt, Deputy General Counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
As proposed by VDOT, the Tri-County Parkway would link to a second proposed highway, the Manassas Battlefield Bypass, which would include an arc around the northern and eastern sides of the battlefield. VDOT and the National Park Service have not analyzed the additional impacts on the battlefield historic district and Bull Run regional park from the proposed bypass.
"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 Southern Environmental Law Center. "Moreover, the impacts of both the Tri County Parkway and the Manassas Battlefield Parkway should be analyzed together."
Last week, a coalition of national and local groups submitted formal comments to VDOT finding significant shortcomings in its proposed agreement with the National Park Service regarding building the Tri-County Parkway. The coalition's comments 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 proposed Tri-County Parkway would comprise part of a proposed Outer Beltway, and is being promoted by VDOT to increase the movement of truck cargo to and from Dulles International Airport.
"VDOT has forced the National Park Service into an untenable negotiating position," said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "The public and decision makers lack all of the necessary information to make a sound decision. As troubling, the draft agreement lacks the necessary and legally binding commitment to close the roads through the park that is the rationale for permitting the destruction of core battlefield lands."