Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Park’s North Lee Drive to close for two days

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

Early morning sunlight illuminates Confederate artillery positions near Prospect Hill along Lee Drive. (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

Next week, contractor will repair chip-seal pavement on visitors’ tour route in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

North Lee Drive, a nearly two-mile stretch of battlefield parkway from Lansdowne Road in Spotsylvania County to Lafayette Boulevard in Fredericksburg, will be closed to traffic next Monday and Tuesday for roadwork.

In May, the National Park Service resurfaced the road—a tour route within Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park—with two coats of “chip seal,” a layer of tar topped with a layer of tan pea gravel.

The upper layer didn’t bond properly because traffic was allowed on the pavement too soon.

“Perhaps the contractor didn’t expect a park road to get as much traffic as  North Lee does,” park Superintendent Russ Smith told Free Lance-Star reporter Jeff Branscome.

So the Park Service asked the contractor to replace it with a new coat of chip seal, at its own expense, using a finer grade of gravel, Smith said Tuesday.

After the first few days, any gravel that doesn’t adhere to the tar will be swept from the roadway.

Lee Drive should reopen next Wednesday, depending on the weather.

“We’re finishing a job we were already doing,” Smith said in an interview. “There is no other option.”

The park applied similar pea gravel to Lee Drive about 1980 and in the early 1990s. It improved safety and the road’s appearance, but workers eventually paved over the gravel to save money, Robert K. Krick, the park’s retired chief historian, has said.

Now, the chip seal coating is part of the park’s broader effort to reduce motorists’ speed on Lee Drive—which some commuters use as a shortcut—to make it safer for all users, on foot and otherwise.

The Park Service has also lowered Lee Drive’s speed limit, installed “Share the Road” signs and stepped up law enforcement.

Some 30,000 cars travel the road each month. More than half of the motorists exceed the 30 mph limit, park rangers estimate.

Earlier this summer, the chip-seal paving angered the Fredericksburg Cyclists Club, whose members ride Lee Drive. Loose gravel made the road dangerous, they said. The group’s president started a petition asking the park to remove loose rocks.

On Tuesday, club president Terry Dorn told Branscome he is disappointed the road will be repaved.

In addition to North Lee Drive, about half of U.S. Bicycle Route 1 from Lee Drive to the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine in Caroline County is paved with gray-colored chip seal. The federally designated East Coast bicycle-touring route traverses the Fredericksburg area.

Chip-seal pavement, considered more attractive than plain asphalt, can also be found on the main entrance road into the University of Mary Washington’s Fredericksburg campus, and on adjacent Brent Street in the city’s College Heights neighborhood.

Lee Drive, which follows the Confederate army’s defensive line during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1982, was the first improvement built for tourists after Congress created the national park in 1927.