Examiner Local Editorial: Battlefield Bypass gets a big thumbs-up

Opinion,Local Editorial

Opponents of the Manassas Battlefield Bypass are twisting logic in their attempt to explain how this limited-access, nine-mile road connecting heavily travelled Interstate 66 in Prince William County to Route 50 in Loudoun County is somehow a bad idea.

The much-needed bypass has been on the planning books for three decades. But it wasn't until this year that former Prince William Board chairman Sean Connaughton, now Virginia's Secretary of Transportation, finally managed to get all the major stakeholders to give it a thumbs-up, including the Federal Highway Administration, the National Park Service, which runs the nearby Manassas National Battlefield Park, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the elected boards of supervisors of both counties.

The four-lane bypass will divert traffic from Routes 29 and 234, which currently bisect one of the nation's most endangered Civil War battlefields. When the bypass is completed in 2035, it will allow those sections of road located inside the 5,000 acre national park to close eventually. Park Superintendent Ed Clark agrees that the $305 million bypass will actually improve the historic site for future visitors.

That's not good enough for local environmentalists, who have yet to meet a highway project they like. Five environmental groups oppose the bypass on the dubious grounds that building it around the battlefield is worse than letting heavy commuter traffic go right straight through it. This argument defies common sense, as does the assertion by Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, that the north-south bypass will somehow increase east-west traffic.

Morgan Butler, an attorney for the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Center, came up with the looniest idea: Close Routes 29 and 234 through the park, don't build the bypass, and limit existing roads to just two lanes. This nonsolution would virtually guarantee total gridlock for miles in every direction.

Schwartz admits that one of the reasons his group strenuously opposes a Battlefield Bypass is because "it corresponds with the 1997 proposed route for the Western Transportation Corridor and forms part of an Outer Beltway" -- which environmentalists have been fighting for decades. But an Outer Beltway is sorely needed to keep through-traffic off the Capital Beltway, which was originally designed for that purpose but has now become a major commuter route. If Schwartz is right, and the Battlefield Bypass becomes a key link in a regional Outer Beltway, so much the better.

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