Top Virginia transportation officials say the next several weeks will be critical to the future of a major highway project in Northern Virginia, and they expect to have a final deal by the end of the year with the National Park Service and historic preservation groups to build the Bi-County Parkway over the western fringe of Manassas National Battlefield Park.
The Virginia Department of Transportation also plans to submit a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to the federal government with the expectation of approval early next year. An agreement with the National Park Service and environmental approval are two of the last remaining obstacles to pushing ahead with a road project that has been studied for more than a decade. In an interview with WAMU 88.5, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton chided a process that, in his view, has lasted far too long.
“This should be an embarrassment to the federal government and all those involved when you look at the fact that this sucker has been around for over 12 years,” said Connaughton, referring to the planned ten-mile, limited access four-lane highway between I-66 and Rt. 50 in Loudoun and Prince William Counties that would run west of the Manassas battlefield and Dulles Airport.
A draft environmental impact statement was approved in 2005, but only recently has there been enough support at the county, state, and federal government levels to bring the Bi-County Parkway to the brink of approval — in the face of vehement opposition from some homeowners in the parkway's alignment and environmental and smart growth groups. Opponents label the Bi-County Parkway an “outer beltway” that would cause more suburban sprawl.
“So we are in the 12 years. Who knows, maybe we will make 13 or 14. This may go down in the annals of history as the longest EIS ever done,” Connaughton said. The federal government shutdown delayed the approval process, but meetings among the interested parties are now being rescheduled.
A final environmental impact statement would likely have to be amended to accommodate for development in Loudoun County since the draft was approved eight years ago.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, VDOT and National Park Service are the five signatories to an agreement that would allow the state to pave over several acres on the western fringe of the Civil War battlefield. In exchange, the state would agree to close Rt. 234 — a congested north-south route — through Manassas battlefield to all but visitor and local traffic. The “programmatic agreement” is in its third draft.
“We need to get all the environmental analysis done, all the data in, and all the parameters of what the project will generally be in order to make a decision on moving forward to actually conducting and building a project,” Connaughton said. “So this is a necessary step if we want to be able to use federal funds and it is also a necessary step because of the impacts on the battlefield itself.”
Other than several million dollars to complete design studies, Virginia currently has no funding in the pipeline for the construction of the $440 million parkway.