On the heels of last week’s outcry after local residents learned that two revised alternatives had been added to the Battlefield Bypass project, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) says people may still comment before a final decision is made.
And Jack Van Dop, the FHWA’s project manager for the Bypass, explained how the revisions to the proposed D and G routes came to pass. At public hearings and in the official Bypass newsletter — mailed to people who attended a hearing and signed up for it — citizen input was solicited.
“We made adjustments based on the comments we’ve received,” he said. “We used the information they gave us to make the alternatives even better. But the majority of them have come from people in Prince William County.”
And therein lies the problem — at least for many Fairfax County residents.
The project’s goal is to close Routes 29 and 234 through the Manassas National Battlefield Park and shift the traffic elsewhere. But residents of the two counties that would bear the brunt of this new highway and its drivers have markedly different ideas about where it should go.
The two revised alternatives that suddenly appeared last week — 4 ½ months after the final public hearing on the project — would have dire consequences for Centreville. Revised alternative G sandwiches several houses in Bull Run Estates between I-66 and the new road, plowing through homes and yards. And revised alternative D travels through the southern edge of the SYA Fields of Dreams youth sports complex and also consumes a large chunk of the Fairfax National Golf Course.
Van Dop said Tuesday he didn’t know exactly how much acreage would be taken from each of these properties if this route is chosen. But a land purchase in that area by the Fairfax County Park Authority caused the FHWA to alter its proposed route there.
Regarding Fairfax National, he said, “With it being a 27-hole course, we assumed it could still be an 18-hole course. It would still be usable. We wouldn’t be taking all their land — no more than nine holes.”
SYA PRESIDENT Gary Flather was caught off-guard by the change. "I don't understand why, if they had open public forums, they would come up with another option and not discuss it with the public before moving forward with it," he said. At first glance, said Flather, it doesn't appear that the revised D will adversely impact the Fields of Dreams.
"It depends where the line is and how far north it goes," he said. "We've asked Van Dop for a [larger], more detailed drawing so we can see the property lines but, at this point, we just don't know."
Park Authority Chairman Hal Strickland said the FHWA, the Park Authority and the National Park Service discussed moving the original alternative D several months ago. He said it’s tied in with plans the Park Authority has for the 200-acre Horne property, which it acquired three years ago, plus more recently acquired land.
“It’s right across from the Battlefield,” he said. “It’s open area, with a number of prehistoric sites — old Indian camps — and these properties are being planned for that purpose.”
But with the original alternative D running right through the middle of that land, said Strickland, “It just destroyed that whole intent for us, so they’ve moved it north, away from that. It’s still a major impact, but — by several magnitudes — it’s better than the original location.”
The land the Park Authority recently acquired from the county Board of Supervisors is a bit further west and runs along Bull Run Creek, just south of the golf course. And during the past year, the Board transferred this property to the Park Authority because it was already designated as a Resource Protection Area.
Furthermore, said Strickland, “We have intentions of buying the property between [this area] and Horne. That would give Fairfax citizens water access and protection and access to the Manassas Battlefield along there. It’s part of the Sully Woodlands Regional Plan and is a valuable feature within that plan.”
So putting the Bypass on the land just south of the golf course, he said, was “unacceptable to us. That would totally destroy the whole park environment, and we just dug our heels in and opposed it.”
As for revised alternative G, said Van Dop, although the FHWA welcomes everyone’s input, “We really look at the substance of the comments. Obviously, somebody who’s backyard this is going through has more say than someone writing to us from [another part of the country] saying, ‘I like the Battlefield.’ We’re trying to balance this thing out.”
ACTUALLY, HE SAID, VDOT and Prince William residents don’t like alternative G, either, and the FHWA’s preferred alternative is still D — although now it’s the revised D. “We’re still just showing people how we could address concerns about D and G, based on their comments, plus the concerns expressed at the [May 5] public hearing [in Haymarket],” he explained. “And if we moved D further north, we’d be moving it closer to homes.”
Van Dop said comments on the revised routes will be accepted until Oct. 24, and he encouraged people to take advantage of the opportunity.
Send comments to: Jack Van Dop, Federal Highway Administration, Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division, 21400 Ridgetop Circle, Sterling, VA 20166, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and maps of the revised alternatives, see www.battlefieldbypass.com.
“We didn’t think these changes were big and substantial enough to warrant another public hearing, so that’s why we came out with this interim newsletter,” he said. “We didn’t want to do it behind closed doors, without giving people a chance to comment.”
Nonetheless, both local members of the project’s Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) — Jeff Flading of Fairfax National Estates and Judy Heisinger of Bull Run Estates – were upset that the FHWA didn’t consult with them prior to unveiling the revised routes.
But Van Dop said the CAB’s purpose was to help develop the project’s draft environmental impact statement [DEIS], narrow down the alternatives and interact with the citizens groups the CAB members represented. Its last meeting was in fall 2004 and, as far as the FHWA was concerned, its services were no longer needed.
“We never thought these revisions were drastic enough to change the CAB’s position on the alternatives,” said Van Dop. “But we do think they’re big enough to let the public know what we’re doing.” However, Heisinger and Flading both took umbrage at being left out of the loop and have requested another meeting of the CAB.
Van Dop said the FHWA has not yet made a final route selection and it’s using the input it’s receiving to “potentially change our mind or make [the project] better.” And although the revised D is still the front-runner, he said he “can’t say for sure” which path the FHWA will recommend to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) — which makes the ultimate decision — “until all the comments come in.”
Meanwhile, the FHWA is still awaiting the recommendations of both Fairfax and Prince William boards of supervisors. Van Dop said the FHWA will discuss the project with Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation staff prior to the supervisors’ next board meeting, Oct. 17. And, he added, “Depending on what they say, that’ll also have an impact [on our decision].”
JIM HART, former chairman of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee, said the WFCCA Executive Committee met Monday night and will send a letter to Van Dop, “to remind him that the WFCCA Land-Use Committee already voted to oppose G and to complain about the lack of public input on [the revised alternatives]. Hart said a copy will be sent to former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley, now this area’s representative on the CTB.
He noted that the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors both hold public hearings about potential additions to the county’s Comprehensive Plan. “But there’s never been a Fairfax County public hearing on the Bypass or a decision to put it on the Comprehensive Plan,” said Hart. “This [whole project and study] is being done independently of our local, citizen-friendly, public-hearing process. It’s being imposed on us from above [the federal government.”
Besides that, he asked, “If you change the route after the DEIS [is completed], how do you know what environmental consequences the new, proposed routes would have? Or do you just skip over them?”