Don't Waste our Money, Don't Destroy our History

As VDOT Rushes to Approve a Highway Through Manassas Battlefield, Coalition Delivers Nearly 4000 Petition Signatures Supporting Smarter Alternative

Coalition for Smarter Growth, Piedmont Environmental Council, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Southern Environmental Law Center

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCTOBER 1, 2013

CONTACT:
Stewart Schwartz, CSG, (703) 599-6437 (cell)
Chris Miller, PEC, 703-507-5790 (cell)

Don't Waste our Money, Don't Destroy our History

As VDOT Rushes to Approve a Highway Through Manassas Battlefield, Coalition Delivers Nearly 4000 Petition Signatures Supporting Smarter Alternative

Under pressure from Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and Governor Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is rushing to approve a highway that would slice through Manassas National Battlefield Park and its surrounding National Historic District. This new highway would open the door to an Outer Beltway, cutting a 45-mile swath through Northern Virginia at a cost of $1 billion or more.  The Bi-County Parkway has sparked broad and deep opposition from local residents, state legislators and preservation groups.

As VDOT holds what may be its last public meetings on the highway (tonight in Loudoun County and Thursday night, October 3 in Prince William County) before seeking the Federal Highway Administration’s approval to spend federal tax dollars, preservation groups released nearly 4,0001 petition signatures protesting the waste of money and destruction of history from constructing the new highway. In July, the coalition released a report making a strong case for a suite of lower-impact projects to meet transportation needs while protecting our history and heritage.

"Nearly 4,000 Virginians and other Americans from many states agree that we should neither waste our money on the Bi-County Parkway, nor should we destroy the history and hallowed ground at Manassas National Battlefield," said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The full petition text and the names and hometowns of the signatories can be reviewed here. This information was provided to Governor McDonnell's office and to other officials this morning.

In the recent debate over the Outer Beltway and Bi-County Parkway, a broad spectrum of interests-- conservationists and preservationists, local residents, and both Republican and Democratic elected officials--have questioned the diversion of scarce transportation funds (estimated at $440 million) to the Bi-County Parkway from projects needed by today's commuters, including extension of Virginia Railway Express, fully funding the Route 28/I-66 interchange, and installing an interchange at Route 28 and Braddock/Walney Roads.

At the same time, many people are concerned about the proposed destruction of the historic landscape at Manassas National Battlefield Park. "We began collecting signatures during the July 2011 reenactment of the First Battle of Manassas,” said Schwartz. “Attendees were shocked to learn about this new highway proposed through the very land on which the reenactment was being held and within sight of the westernmost flanks of the two armies in the Second Battle of Manassas."  Fifteen thousand people participated in the event, including 8,000 re-enactors.2

The lands at risk have deep significance. The Manassas Battlefield Historic District includes land eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and inclusion in the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Confederate victory in the Second Battle of Manassas empowered General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion onto Union soil, culminating in the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. Lee’s subsequent retreat to 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 Bi-County Parkway would scar the landscape and the public's quiet contemplation of the scene of the fierce fighting 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 strategically-significant Confederate victory.

The National Park Service is considering agreeing to the highway through the Battlefield in return for an agreement from VDOT that Route 234 through the Battlefield could be closed.  "The Park Service is not protecting the public interest with this agreement," said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council.  "In return for the potential reduction in traffic on Route 234 through the Battlefield, the new highway would increase traffic on Route 29 through the Battlefield AND add at least 50,000 trips per day and high noise levels on a new highway through the landscape of the Second Battle of Manassas.  It's a bad deal that would lead to the degradation of the visitor's experience of both battlefields."

"Our coalition of groups has offered a lower impact alternative for moving traffic around the battlefield, while allowing closure of both roads through the battlefield,” said Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “Our alternative also directs scarce funding to the most critical transportation needs, particularly for addressing challenges for east-west commuting."

"Governor McDonnell says he cares about protecting our historic battlefields and spending our tax dollars wisely.  Therefore, he should kill this project.  He has the power to do so," concluded Schwartz.

Text of petition is reproduced below.

Text of Petition:

We, the undersigned, ask Governor Bob McDonnell, Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, and all those who serve or wish to serve as elected officials in Virginia's government, to support fiscally responsible and effective transportation solutions for Virginia.

The state is at a crossroads. Taxpayer funding is limited and we cannot afford to waste billions of dollars on roads that will not address our major congestion problems and would, in fact, make our traffic problems worse. We need to focus on fixing major commuter routes, potholed roads, and aging bridges and transit systems instead of opening more land to speculative development.

For these reasons, we oppose the proposed Outer Beltway in Northern Virginia, which would extend 50 miles from I-95 in Stafford County to Leesburg.

Furthermore, this four to six-lane new highway would run through the unprotected historic district and landscape on the western side of Manassas National Battlefield. It would destroy the sense of history around Brawner Farm, site of some of the most intense fighting of the Second Battle of Manassas.

Thousands of cars and trucks, with their noise and pollution, would scar this hallowed ground. Yet, it doesn't have to be this way because reasonable, alternative transportation solutions are available, and would protect this national historic site. As we commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, we must honor our history not destroy it.

For these reasons, we urge you to invest our tax dollars wisely and to permanently protect one of Virginia's, and the nation's, most historic sites. We urge you to oppose the proposed Outer Beltway in Northern Virginia and the destruction it would cause at Manassas Battlefield.

Don't waste our money. Don't destroy our history.

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[1] Actual number as of October 1, 2013 is 3,946.

[2] Manassas National Battlefield Park is invaluable not only because of its history and meaning, but also because of its role in the local economy. According to the National Park Service, non-local visitors to the park in 2011 spent more than $9.2 million, supporting 105 jobs and generating $3.5 million in labor income. See Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation, 2011, Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Michigan State University. National Park Service Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Program, February 2013, p. 20. Report  available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/docs/NPSSystemEstimates2011.pdf

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