Today, and for many years, the chief threat has been choking commuter and industrial traffic through the heart of the park. The old Warrenton Turnpike, now Lee Highway (Route 29), features bumper-to-bumper congestion as it runs through both battlefields. Park officials and supporters have thus far resisted widening the road beyond two lanes through the battlefield and losing historic land in the process. But this causes a funnel of congestion within the park, particularly at the intersection with Sudley Road (Route 234).
I am not a municipal planner; my expertise lies in history and the park’s visitor experience. But as someone who has studied and explored every inch of these battlefields, I have watched the debate over the proposed Bi-County Parkway with intense interest. Good points have been made by both sides about the project’s potential benefits and side effects. But the debate has lost sight of a very real and ever-worsening problem: Commuter and industrial traffic threatens to eclipse this national park, one of America’s crown jewels.
Suburban growth in the region has accelerated to the point that an estimated 26,000 vehicles squeeze through the park each day. The crisis is most visible at the intersection of routes 29 and 234, in front of the Stone House, a key landmark of both battles. Here, commuters and battlefield visitors alike must sit through multiple cycles of the stoplight, burning gas and patience. The incessant, deep-throated rumble of dump trucks from two nearby quarries, plus other industrial vehicles, obliterates any chance of reverie. A 2005 Environmental Impact Statement by the National Park Service noted that the roughly 10 percent density of construction traffic on these roads is up to four times heavier than what similar thoroughfares typically experience. The historic buildings’ floors vibrate noticeably underfoot, and cracks have appeared in the structures.
Manassas arguably experiences worse traffic through its heart than any other national park. Visitors traveling the designated tour route must fight their way through the Stone House intersection eight times — an excruciating experience for even the most patient traveler. I have led many tours where traffic noise made it impossible to effectively communicate at key spots.
For decades, government officials have reached for solutions. The 1988 congressional legislation that protected Stuart’s Hill already called for the same sections of routes 29 and 234 discussed in the Bi-County Parkway proposal to be turned over to the National Park Service. Clearly, a permanent answer is long overdue, yet practical ideas have rarely gotten beyond the drawing board. And recent “improvements” — such as the addition of traffic lights and lengthy turn lanes at the Stone House intersection — have only made traffic worse.