The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Park road gets a rough finish
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
The nearly five-mile National Park Service road off Lafayette Boulevard is being covered with tan pea gravel to slow motorists and bicyclists, a Park Service official said. The gravel is being rolled onto a thin layer of tar.
Spotsylvania resident Terry Dorn, president of the Fredericksburg Cyclists Club, said it appears the new surface is meant to deter recreational activity along Lee Drive. The loose rocks make it unsafe for cyclists, especially those riding bikes with skinny tires, he said.
“A couple speed bumps would’ve been much cheaper than covering miles of road with asphalt and gravel,” Dorn said. “We’re disappointed that they didn’t work with us first so that we could’ve maybe come to some better resolution.”
Russ Smith, superintendent of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said he expects traffic to embed any loose gravel in a few weeks.
The work, which Smith said was done solely for safety reasons, started last week and should be finished soon. Officials don’t have plans to sweep excess rocks off the road, but Smith said that could happen.
“It’ll be a fine surface,” he said. “It just won’t be raceway smooth, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Park rangers issued 136 tickets and written warnings to motorists last year in the region’s Civil War parks, with 72 coming from Lee Drive, Smith said. He said rangers give cyclists verbal warnings for exceeding the 30 mph limit.
The Federal Highway Administration allocated $1.8 million for improvements to Lee Drive. Workers paved the road late last year but had to hold off on the pea gravel surface—which cost $200,000—because of winter weather, Smith said.
He said he didn’t feel a need to notify the community of the new surface because he didn’t think it would concern people.
“Frankly, we didn’t foresee how much gravel would be left on the road,” Smith said.
In fact, some people complimented the change after an announcement last week on the park’s Facebook page.
“We’ve almost been run over by speeding cars before while trying to run,” according to one Facebook post. “So great to encourage everyone to slow down in such a beautiful place.”
Another Facebook user said the road was a little rough but looks nice and forces people to “enjoy the experience a bit more.”
Smith said the bumpy road will calm traffic. “Drivers only go as fast as they think it’s safe to go. I think having an uneven surface, a surface that makes more noise, does not give you that feeling of safety,” he said.
Champe Burnley, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation in Richmond, said a Park Service road in Richmond was recently covered with pea gravel, too. The rougher surface, he said, makes for a “less pleasant or even less safe experience.”
Dorn of the Fredericksburg Cyclists Club noted that bicyclists with the Cabot Community Tour—which travels from Florida to New England—are scheduled to ride through Lee Drive in June. He said he’s worried the road will still be dangerous for cyclists.
“It does look beautiful,” Dorn said of the gravel, “but it’s just not safe.”
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402