25 March 2011 by Published in: Battlefield preservation No comments yet

There is presently a pending proposal by VDOT to widen Route 3 through the Stevensburg portion of the Brandy Station battlefield. If the original proposal is approved, that core sector of the battlefield will be largely obliterated. The reasons why this is not acceptable ought to be obvious. The Brandy Station Foundation objected, and fortunately, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources sided with the BSF.

From today’s edition of the Culpeper Star-Exponent:

DHR disputes VDOT’s Route 3 findings

Published: March 25, 2011

On Thursday, another front emerged in the battle to widen Route 3 in the Stevensburg area, this time between the Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The DHR formally rejected an earlier VDOT report that claimed an expansion of the highway would have no adverse effects on the Brandy Station Civil War battlefield, Hansbrough’s Ridge, a Stevensburg-area hill that played a role in the war and a recently discovered, secluded natural spring.

In a letter to VDOT dated Thursday, Julie V. Langan of the DHR details the points of disagreement.

“After examining materials presented to us by VDOT and the consulting parties, listening to the views of all sides during the consulting parties meeting, driving the project corridor and studying the revised maps from the American Battlefield Protection Program, DHR must disagree with VDOT’s assessment of effect.”

The letter goes on to say that Hansbrough’s Ridge is a “dominant presence” on the area’s battlefield landscape and that VDOT should undertake efforts to minimize any adverse impacts.

“Additionally, we request that VDOT engineers explore again any possibilities to minimize the footprint of lane additions at Hansbrough’s Ridge in an effort to preserve as much of the ridgeline as possible.”

Finally, the DHR says a recently discovered historic spring, Wicked Bottom, must also be protected. A highway retention pond would take its place if the current plans were advanced.

Project in brief

At a public hearing on Wednesday, VDOT presented two options to expand a 5.1-mile, two-lane section of Route 3 between Stevensburg and Lignum to four lanes.

The first plan, estimated to cost $38.9 million, would widen the road along the existing track, with narrowed shoulders in some areas to minimize the impact to adjacent properties.

The second plan, estimated at $35 million, would construct a new highway route, bypassing Stevensburg to the north and rejoining the existing highway near Clay Hill Road. The second alignment would also cut out a section of Route 3 that’s had multiple fatal crashes in the past few years.

However, VDOT and law enforcement officials have said previously that driver error, deer strikes and inappropriate driving behaviors, not the inherent design of the two-lane road, are to blame for most of the problems.

VDOT Culpeper District spokesman Lou Hatter said the DHR’s review is part of the National Environmental Policy Act that applies to transportation projects using federal funds. Hatter also said that an adverse impact determination is common when projects impact historic resources.

“Addressing these types of questions typically takes 90 to 120 days after reviewing the public hearing comments and coordinating with DHR,” Hatter said late Thursday.

‘Zero sensitivity’

Brandy Station Foundation president Bud Hall said the DHR report vindicates everyone who championed protection of the nearby historic areas. He was also sharply critical of VDOT’s findings.

“It’s a shoddy piece of scholarship,” Hall said. “Their report showed absolute zero sensitivity. The report concluded that a four lane highway through Hansbrough’s Ridge and Stevensburg would have no adverse effect on the historic resources,” Hall said. “I thought it was ludicrous.

“The construction of a 150-foot wide highway with a 16-foot raised median in the center would effectively destroy historic landscape directly affiliated with the Stevensburg phase of the Battle of Brandy Station. DHR is to be commended and applauded for their correction of the record in this matter.”

In addition to the Brandy Station Foundation, Hall said the Germanna Foundation, Piedmont Environmental Council, the Civil War Trust and other groups went on the record to contest VDOT’s findings.

Asked what an acceptable transportation compromise would be, Hall said officials should mirror what was done in Upperville — a widened road with reduced speed limits and traffic calming elements. “Route 50 is busy if not busier and it’s a very safe model.”

Zann Nelson, a local historian and Star-Exponent columnist, also applauded Thursday’s DHR decision.

“DHR is really on top of things when the citizens come forward and raise questions,” she said. “That’s the way the system is supposed to work. If nobody questions a report, you can’t implement the checks and balances. As painful as it is, it is a system that is working properly.”

Kudos to DHR for doing the right thing. Hopefully, VDOT will now take steps to protect the battlefield. Thanks to Bud Hall for passing this along.

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