Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II came out against the planned Bi-County Parkway at a Saturday morning rally in Prince William County, marking an apparent shift from the stance he took at a candidates’ forum in August.

Cuccinelli, speaking near Manassas National Battlefield Park, told a friendly crowd of about 150 people that he was opposed to the 10-mile connector between Loudoun and Prince William counties as it is currently planned.

“The case has not been made that what’s proposed right over here is an efficient use of your transportation dollars to reduce the congestion that plagues all of Northern Virginia,” Cuccinelli (R) told the crowd. Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, also reiterated his opposition to closing two crisscrossing roads within the National Park Service’s borders in exchange for building a connector around its western edge, as the park’s superintendent prefers.

“It’s crazy in Northern Virginia to be making a deal with the National Park Service that closes down major roads in the heart of communities in Northern Virginia,” Cuccinelli said. “If this is just a developer’s project, then it shouldn’t happen.”

Saturday’s event took place on a farm owned by Page Snyder, a leading opponent of the Bi-
County Parkway
. Cuccinelli’s campaign said he had not made a turnabout from remarks supporting a north-south link during the “Battleground Forum” hosted in Manassas in August by several Northern Virginia chambers of commerce. At the forum, Cuccinelli expressed support for a connector between the two counties but also said he was “appalled” at the idea of closing the arteries crisscrossing the park.

Cuccinelli said he wanted to clarify his position on the connector and contrast his views with those of his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, who declined to take a stance on the roadway during the August forum. Democrats suggested that Cuccinelli was making a U-turn because he has found himself down in the polls.

“An increasingly desperate Ken Cuccinelli is resorting to lies and election-eve pandering,” McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin said in an e-mail.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Cuccinelli also made some of his strongest comments on the need to end the federal government shutdown, saying he told members of Virginia’s congressional delegation that it’s time to move on.

“When I communicate with these folks – and I’ll see a couple of them today – I urge them to resolve it one way or another,” Cuccinelli said. “The emphasis I put on them is this has to end. This has to be brought to a conclusion. What I am doing is emphasizing the urgency with which Virginians feel this needs to be concluded.”

Cuccinelli said he would make those views known when he sees House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) at the Republican Roundup and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) at the Family Foundation’s gala later Saturday. Both events are in Richmond.

McAuliffe and his allies have hammered Cuccinelli since the Capitol Hill standoff escalated into a shutdown, saying as a tea party hero he should speak out against hardball tactics pushed by his allies. Democrats have also called on him to denounce Cruz, who has led the effort to close the federal government unless President Obama and Senate Democrats alter the Affordable Care Act.

With polls showing more Americans blame the GOP than Democrats for the shutdown, Republicans worry that voters, particularly in Washington’s populous suburbs, could vent their wrath on Cuccinelli. Polls show McAuliffe has an edge in a competitive race with about a month to go.

The proposed Bi-County Parkway would connect Interstate 66 in Prince William to Route 50 in Loudoun. The Northern Virginia business community is generally in favor of the 10-mile connector as a way to ease congestion, spur growth and improve access to Dulles International Airport. Opponents, including smart-growth advocates, landowners and historical preservationists, say they think the route would lead to more traffic jams and disturb the Civil War battlefield.

The Park Service, which oversees the historic battlefield, has hoped to strike a deal that would allow the parkway to cut through the park’s western fringe in exchange for shutting down Sudley Road, which is known as Route 234, and Route 29, both within the park’s borders. But the idea of closing those roads has stirred up Prince William residents already maddened by heavy traffic.

Cuccinelli kicked off Saturday’s rally by reading passages from McAuliffe’s autobiography “What a Party!” in which the former Democratic National Committee chairman talks about how governors have the easiest time raising money because they can hand out contracts to build roads.

Cuccinelli suggested that McAuliffe is backing the parkway to please developers who have contributed to his campaign. Cuccinelli told the crowd that McAuliffe’s support for the parkway “slipped out” in remarks he had made at a small campaign event with the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce in August.

Cuccinelli’s campaign cited news articles about the Dulles Regional Chamber event, although those articles have conflicting statements about McAuliffe’s position. An article on Patch that initially said McAuliffe supported the highway now carries a clarification saying McAuliffe did not take a position on the road; articles that appeared in the Connection newspapers say McAuliffe supports the Bi-County Parkway. Schwerin said the corrected version on Patch is accurate and the others are inaccurate.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Cuccinelli said he still supported the idea of a north-south roadway that would improve access to some of the state’s fastest-growing population centers in Prince William and Loudoun counties.

“It isn’t a flip-flop. This is the same position again,” Cuccinelli said. “I said then and I still say now that some alternative connection between the two high population areas west of Dulles and here in western Prince William is worth looking at. But what needs to be done and what I said here is, it’s got be done in the context of all the other projects that have got to compete for that money, and does it reduce congestion as much as the alternatives? And that case has not been made.”

Cuccinelli suggested that the state should look for a route farther west, perhaps through a state park.

“Why wheel and deal with the National Park Service when we have land just slightly to the west of here that we can use?” Cuccinelli said.

In the candidates’ forum in August, McAuliffe sidestepped the issue.

“I want to get all the stakeholders in a room,” McAuliffe said. When moderator Derek McGinty tried to pin him down, saying McAuliffe owed Virginians an answer, McAuliffe replied: “That’s cute to say, but I do not make decisions, nor will I make decisions, without the facts in front of me.”

Snyder, who described herself as a Democrat, said she was backing Cuccinelli because of his stand against the roadway despite his having conservative social views that trouble her. She welcomed Cuccinelli’s shift in stance on the parkway, saying, “I think he’s been educated.”

“It’s a road for developers,” Snyder said. “It’s paving our history. . . . There are cheaper alternatives.”

Snyder said she has talked with Cuccinelli’s wife, Teiro, about strongly opposing the parkway because they share a particular interest in the issue. Snyder, who said her family has been on the farm for six decades, said she had tried to gauge McAuliffe’s stance but was told at a meeting with his campaign staff that he could not take a position.

“They just were not interested. They said he just can’t take a stand on this – too controversial,” Snyder said.

Schwerin disputed that account.

“Terry thinks that we need to unlock Dulles Airport, but there are also some legitimate concerns about this proposal related to road closures and impacts on the battlefield,” Schwering said. “After he’s elected, he will meet with all the stakeholders to ensure that our solution is both economically beneficial and supported by the local community.”