Supervisors Resist Road Widening In Buckland U.S., Va. Still Have Say in Preservation
The Washington Post
Sunday, April 12, 2009; PW03
By Jennifer Buske
Roads can be moved; history can't. That was the message Buckland residents sent to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday in an effort to sway the panel's vote on a transportation plan amendment meant to preserve their historic district.
After listening to a few dozen speakers, the board unanimously voted to reduce the number of lanes the county has planned for Route 29 through the Buckland Historic Overlay District from six to the current four. The change, which covers the strip between the Fauquier County line and Route 15, will be made to the county's comprehensive plan and other planning documents. Supervisors also voted to attach language to the amendment that reiterates the area's historical significance and ensures all parties are involved if transportation changes occur.
"Buckland is an important county resource, and the majority of the landowners there support the preservation," said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville). "I'm a strong supporter of property rights, and if the people there recognize what they have and want to preserve it, I'm going to support them."
The comprehensive plan, however, serves only as a guide; it is not a legally binding document. That means the battle to protect Buckland is not over.
Because the road is a U.S. highway, state and federal authorities ultimately control the road design, county planner Ray Utz said.
"We receive mixed messages about the national and state goals for this roadway," Utz said. "But I think it's a valuable thing board members did. They said that historic and preservation needs are more important and that we should look at alternate routes to improve transportation through this area."
Mike Salmon, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said the state's long-range plan does not include widening Route 29 in Buckland. Widening is proposed in the Gainesville area. VDOT is also conducting a Route 29 study to evaluate transportation needs between Prince William and the North Carolina border.
The current four-lane road through Buckland serves about 53,000 vehicles daily and has a service level rating of D, which is considered a nationally acceptable standard, transportation officials said. Within the next few years, traffic is expected to increase to about 62,000 vehicles daily. Without a widening project or alternative routes, the service level would drop to a failing grade.
Buckland residents and archaeologists have long battled an expansion, fearing it would destroy the historic village they have worked to protect.
"You have to protect this area because once it's gone, it's gone forever," Janice Cunard, a member of the Prince William County Historical Commission, told the board Tuesday. "People want to be able to step back in time and see and feel what it was like. It's impossible to feel like you are stepping back in time when you have six lanes of road running by you."
Buckland was incorporated in 1798, and its location along Broad Run helped it become a vibrant community in the 18th and 19th centuries. The village housed mills, shops and a quarry and was frequented by numerous famous people including George Washington, Andrew Jackson and James Monroe.
Buckland also played a prominent role in the Civil War. On Oct. 19, 1863, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart staged a fake retreat in Buckland, then ambushed Union troops, forcing them to flee toward Warrenton. The event became known as the Buckland Races and marked one of the Confederate cavalry's last victories of the Civil War.
Buckland is listed on numerous state and federal historic registers and marks the halfway point on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, a 175-mile stretch between Monticello and Gettysburg that was declared a National Heritage Area by President George W. Bush last year.
"History is better observed than read, but in order to see it, it has to preserved," said John McBride, a member of the Buckland Preservation Society. "We all know there are other ways to move the cars from Fauquier to Fairfax."
County planners, who recommended that the board keep six lanes in the comprehensive plan but note the area's historical significance, said if the roadway is widened to six lanes, the expansion could take place within the 150- to 170-foot right-of-way the state already owns along Route 29.
But Buckland Preservation Society President David Blake said doing so would pave over numerous building foundations and artifacts.
"It's really disheartening staff took it upon themselves to be so forthright about this widening as if it meant nothing to the integrity of the historic landscape," Blake said.
Several of Buckland's original buildings remain intact, including the Buckland Tavern, Buckland Mill and the Ned Distiller House, which was built by a freed slave.
The preservation society has also secured more than $1.8 million in grants for preservation easements and restoration projects that will advance the society's goal of turning Buckland into a tourist destination.
"I want to commend the supervisors for taking this leadership role and doing the right thing for the commonwealth," Blake said. "It's wonderful to see."
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