A hundred and fifty years after one of the most famous and horrific conflicts of the Civil War, yet another battle of Manassas seems to be taking shape — this time involving the Commonwealth of Virginia and a group of environmentalists, smart-growth activists and historic preservation groups.
Five groups are pouncing on the administration of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and the Virginia Department of Transportation for pushing a new road, called by some the Western Beltway, that would link Washington Dulles International Airport to Interstate 95.
The idea has been around for decades but has languished as other areas in Northern Virginia have been opened up by roads and developed, such as tracts along I-66. The so-called “Tri-County Parkway” popped up again the Commonwealth Transportation Board gave it special planning priority.
The latest skirmish followed the state seeking permission from the National Park Service to access up to 35 acres of historic battlefield grounds where Robert E. Lee whupped Union General John Pope. Lee’s lesser force killed 10,000 Northern troops while losing only 1,500 Confederates during fighting during the last days of August 1862.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Piedmont Environmental Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Southern Environmental Law Center issued a news release this week decrying plans to rip up battlegrounds for a parkway. They claim it would overload the park, which already receives 650,000 visitors a year.
“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 for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Preservationists and smart-growth advocates have been critical of the highway plan for years, saying it would needlessly extend suburban sprawl farther from the District. Rather than speed commutes, it would simply create more congestion, they have said.
The newest twist is that the McDonnell administration is pushing ahead with the Manassas Park plan during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
According to my fellow blogger, Jim Bacon, Manassas may have been through as many as five distinct battles. There was the Civil War’s First Manassas and then the bloodier Second Manassas. In 1988, famed Northern Virginia developer John T. “Til” Hazel, who built much of Tyson’s Corner, tried and failed to put a big shopping mall next to the battlefield. Next came the Disney Company, which in 1994 wanted to build a theme park next to the battlefield but was turned back popular opposition.
We’re now at the Fifth Battle of Manassas. Who will win?