Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Battle of Route 3

Today at Stevensburg: March 22, 2011

As written in today's Culpeper Star Exponent, by Rhonda Simmons.

The battle of Route 3
By Rhonda Simmons
As the Virginia Department of Transportation prepares to move forward with widening the final section of Route 3 in southeastern Culpeper County, opposition from historic preservationists and nearby landowners is gaining momentum.

Members of the Brandy Station Foundation, Civil War Trust, Germanna Foundation and Stevensburg homeowners plan to attend Wednesday’s public hearing to share their concerns about the area’s historic significance and the possibility of homes being destroyed in the process.
The public hearing will take place Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center, 18121 Technology Drive, Culpeper.

VDOT staff will explain the process from design through construction. Plans and environmental documents will also be on hand for the public.

The project would widen 5.1 miles of Route 3, transforming the two-lane road to a four-lane divided road from Stevensburg to Lignum.

VDOT has two options: The first would construct a $38.9 million four-lane divided highway along the existing road, roughly following the current road and passing to the south of the village of Stevensburg. According to VDOT, contractors would narrow the road’s median and shoulder improvements to minimize the impact to residential property.

According to VDOT officials, the second option would start on Route 3 just east of U.S. 29, but bypass the village of Stevensburg to the north and return to the existing road just east of Route 739 (Clay Hill Road), continuing to Lignum. This option is estimated at about $35 million.
Lou Hatter, public affairs manager for VDOT’s Culpeper District, pointed to safety hazards and increasing traffic volume as reasons for widening the road.

“(It’s a) section of the roadway that has (had) issues with safety including the head-on collision crash,” Hatter explained. “Widening the road and dividing the median between traffic traveling in opposite directions would certainly be a safety improvement on that piece of road. It’s also a highway that’s handling an increasing amount of traffic.”

After a number of fatal car crashes on this curvy stretch of road in the past few years, including the deadly quadruple wreck in March 2009, VDOT officials began a safety study, which resulted in a few road improvements and new signage.

Another battle begins?
Clark “Bud” Hall, president of the Brandy Station Foundation, said the proposed Route 3 widening project would “seriously and adversely” impact the sensitive historic resources in the village of Stevensburg.

“It will eviscerate a large portion of the Stevensburg phase of the Battle of Brandy Station,” Hall said. “It will remove further a section of Hansbrough’s Ridge, a unique geographical phenomenon to Culpeper County because this 1½-mile-long ridge fronts the Rapidan River. This ridge was a defensive bulwark used in the Civil War by both sides.”

In 1991, the National Register of Historic Places added the Hansbrough Ridge Winter Encampment District to its list.

“It’s an extraordinarily valuable piece of Culpeper’s remarkable Civil War history,” Hall added.
“The Brandy Station Foundation believes that VDOT should show extraordinary sensitivity to Culpeper’s historic resources.”

Clark also offered his suggestions as an alternative to the situation.

He recommends four-laning from Lignum to east of the village of Stevensburg and preserving the current two-lane area near the historic ridge. He also favors adding safety measures such as
reducing the speed limits and putting in “traffic calming mechanisms” through the historic area.
Culpeper historian Zann Nelson (see accompanying column) concurs with Hall, noting the area’s vast historic value in addition to the immeasurable Civil War impact.

“We have been concerned over this and talking with VDOT for more than a year,” said Nelson, who began her research and involvement with the project in February 2010. “This is about the historic integrity of the entire Stevensburg area. Whether it’s the village, houses on the National Register, the Battle of Brandy Station or the 1864 Winter Encampment, it must be considered as a whole unit because each aspect is integrally related to the others.”

Marc Wheat, Germanna Foundation president, plans to speak at Wednesday’s meeting, sharing the historic significance of Salubria, a mid-18th century home built for Lady Butler Brayne Spotswood located just off the two-mile stretched of Route 3 west of Stevensburg.

“The Germanna Foundation is investing tens of thousands of dollars into preserving Salubria and restoring its terraced gardens to make it the premier tourist destination in Culpeper County,” Wheat said. “We want VDOT to complement those efforts, not detract from them.”

Longtime Stevensburg resident Jane Hitt plans to attend the public hearing, too.

“I’m against (the new road) coming through here,” said Hitt, who has lived in her home in the 19000 block of Germanna Highway (Route 3) for 45 years. “I don’t want it to come any closer than it is. It’s too close already.”

What’s next?
VDOT officials expect the Route 3 widening project to advance to the design phase this year, receiving approval for right-of-way acquisition in November.

Advertisements for bids are set for late 2013, and construction will likely begin in the spring of 2014.

VDOT will also receive written or oral statements until its April 4 deadline.

Want to go?
VDOT public hearing on the widening of Route 3
Where: Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center, Culpeper
When: Wednesday, 5 to 7 p.m.
More: For a look at the road-widening plans, visit VDOT’s Culpeper District office, 1601 Orange Road in Culpeper, or call 829-7500.

It is estimated by VDOT, that at least 150 feet of Hansbrough's ridge will be destroyed to make room for the additional lanes, drainage, right-of-way and landscaping. This is the section of the ridge where Kirtley's Rolling road (the original Route 3), a wartime road from Norman's Mill and a road the ran along the ridge intersected. All would be lost. this is also the location where Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Hampton of the 2nd South Carolina (Wade's younger brother) was mortally wounded attempting to hold back the Federal onslaught with 36 troopers.

I will be at the GCC Daniel Technology Center on Wednesday night

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