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War wages over intersection: expansion proposals would encroach on hallowed ground.

Manassas, Va. -- One hundred thirty-seven years after Union and Confederate troops met at a quiet juncture of two rural Virginia roads, fighting continues as lawmakers, county officials, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), and the National Park Service (NPS) wrangle over a proposed expansion of the same intersection, located in Manassas National Battlefield Park in Prince William County, Va.

Suburban development has slowly surrounded the Civil War battlefield, once safely removed from the frenzy of Washington, D.C., and its commuting multitudes. The country roads, now called U S. Route 29 and VA Route 234, have evolved into major commuter routes to the city. They are heavily used despite die construction of Interstate 66, which passes only two miles to the south of the intersection and has recently been widened to ease gridlock. Currently, the intersection offers only one lane each way and is controlled by stoplights. During rush hour, lines of cars have stretched up to two miles in both directions because those turning left block all other cars behind. Impatience and poor judgment have led to illegal maneuvers in the intersection and to a number of fender benders.

Under the guise of public safety interests, VDOT has a proposal before NPS that would add turn lanes to the intersection from all directions. It claims the expansion will speed up the commuter process and reduce accidents by 45 percent, but the Park Service disagrees, proposing instead a change in the sequencing of the stoplights so that only one direction may turn at a time. The NPS proposal, supported by both NPCA and the Federal Highway Administration, will improve safety without paving more federal battlefield land.

"The proposed widening of the intersection is the wrong solution in the wrong place," says Al Eisenberg, NPCA's deputy director of conservation policy. "It makes fiscal and environmental sense to apply the least costly and least disruptive measures."

Unfortunately, VDOT's proposal is supported by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who inserted a one line provision into the 1998 Interior Appropriations bill demanding Park Service cooperation with Prince William County regarding the expansion of the intersection. President Clinton signed the bill in November. "It's ironic that Congressman Wolf fought so hard to protect the battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley in the last Congress," says Eileen Woodford, NPCA's Northeast regional director, "but is now demanding that NPS consider changes that would undermine the integrity of this historic landscape."

NPCA asserts that the expansion will not only destroy the historic fabric of the park, but it will also encourage more non-park traffic to pass more closely to the Stone House, which served as Union headquarters and a field hospital during the First and Second battles of Manassas. "This is one more attempt to pave the national parks," says Woodford. "We can't allow the convenience of the commuter to dictate how we manage nationally significant lands."

In its own proposal, VDOT admits a decrease in intersection volume by 21 percent and that traffic operations have "improved" after the construction of I-66. But "improvement," according to VDOT's proposal, also means accommodating the maximum number of cars flowing through the intersection, and hence, through the battlefield. As it is, the steady drone of traffic disrupts the quiet of an otherwise peaceful, reflective setting. The question still remains: how many more times will the past be sacrificed for convenience of the present?
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Title Annotation:Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia
Publication:National Parks
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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