MANASSAS, Va. – The latest wrinkle in the new “Battle of Manassas” is coming from Washington, D.C., not Virginia.
A meeting between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the other four organizations that will sign off on the Bi-County Parkway project was scheduled for Tuesday, but was canceled because of the government shutdown.
“It won’t be rescheduled until the federal workforce is back. So that in effect has delayed the process of nailing down the final programmatic agreement,” says VDOT Project Manager Tom Fahrney.
Specifically, employees at the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation were furloughed. That group, along with the Federal Highway Administration, National Parks Service, VDOT and Virginia’s historic preservation office must all sign a Section 106 Programmatic Agreement because the Bi-County Parkway runs on the edge of the historic Manassas Battlefield.
The 10-mile parkway would be a four-lane road connecting Va. 234 Business near Interstate 66 to U.S. 50 near Va. 877 west of Dulles International Airport.
Once an agreement is signed off between the five agencies, the Federal Highway Administration could issue a Record of Decision this winter that would allow VDOT to move toward design.
But Delegates Tim Hugo, Bob Marshall and 12 other lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell in September to request that he waits until his successor is sworn into office in January and the new General Assembly meets before moving forward on any agreement.
“I’m glad that Attorney General Cuccinelli is coming out and making a very clear statement that he doesn’t think this decision should be made right now in the last hours of this waning administration. It needs to be looked at anew by someone who has to live with it for four years, not by people who can wash their hands and walk away,” says Marshall.
He says he’s disappointed at McDonnell’s position on the Bi-County Parkway, but he’s hopeful that the government shutdown means the issue will not be resolved before January.
While Cuccinelli will hold an event on Saturday with the Pageland Lane residents to oppose the project, Democrat Terry McAuliffe has not taken a concrete position. In a recent gubernatorial debate, McAuliffe said he would sit down with experts once he was elected and study the issue. Pageland Lane residents like Mary Ann Ghadban have started a grassroots effort to stop the project.
As far as the agreement, Fahrney wouldn’t speculate on when the meeting will be rescheduled or whether the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement will be signed before January.
“Our goal is as soon as the federal government is back, to reschedule the meeting, to work out the remaining issue in the agreement, and then hopefully the five signatories will be in a position where they will sign it. But I can’t say when that will happen since the process has been delayed,” he says.
Fahrney adds that he isn’t certain how long it would take after the meeting occurs before the deal is signed. He says it could be weeks, or it could still be months. But he adds that politics will not play any role in when the agreement is signed.
While these decisions are key to the future of the project, it will still be years before it opens. VDOT only has money for design, not for construction, meaning the project would not be complete for probably at least another 10-15 years.