The superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park said Tuesday that traffic on highways within the park is getting so bad that it is nearly impossible for tourists to visit the historical sites within the battlefield.
Superintendent Robert Sutton said the portions of Routes 29 and 234 that transect the park are routinely backed up for miles during mornings and afternoons.
"There's gridlock within the park all day," Sutton said, after speaking to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. "That's just reality."
Sutton told supervisors that he would support any of several proposals being considered for a battlefield bypass. Although the project is still in the planning stages, Sutton said, the traffic situation is so bad that he supports several proposals that would build a four-lane highway through other parts of the park.
Legislation passed by Congress in 1980 and 1988 provided that any future bypass be near or on battlefield land to minimize the effect on neighbors.
"Do I like that? No," Sutton said. "But I am willing to give up little pieces of the park to close seven miles of roads in the middle of it."
The roads are part of the story of the two battles at Manassas as well as the way for visitors to reach the different parts of the battlefield. During the Civil War, both roads, known as Sudley Road and the Warrenton Turnpike, were key transportation arteries for competing forces and the site of much fighting.
On Tuesday, supervisors were given a status report by Federal Highway Administration and other officials about the ongoing study of alternatives. The new roadway would handle up to 29,000 vehicles a day, according to the presentation.
Four of the proposals being studied would take Route 29 traffic around the battlefield to the north, then come back south along the current Pageland Lane, connecting at various points to an extension of the existing Route 234 Bypass. A fifth option would take Route 29 traffic to the south of the park, running parallel to Interstate 66 and connecting through Battlefield Parkway.
Depending on the alignment chosen, the new road would be 4.8 miles to 7.9 miles long and cost $68 million to $94 million to build.
Sutton said he would accept any alternative that guaranteed that the historical crossroads would be closed to commuter and commercial traffic. He said the roads would be kept in their current paved conditions, not be restored to Civil War-era dirt or gravel roads, complete with wagon-wheel ruts.
"We're very pleased with the progress [of the study], and the park would be satisfied with any of the alternatives, and I think that is fairly unusual and positive for a project like this,'' Sutton said.
The next steps include continuing coordination with the Virginia Department of Transportation, a selection of a preferred alternative, a public hearing and the issuance of an environmental impact statement, said Jack Van Dop, the project manager for the Federal Highway Administration.