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Fredericksburg Agrees To Close Sunken Road
By Deborah Fitts

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - The famous Sunken Road at Fredericksburg is slated to be snatched back from the 21st century, thanks to a vote by the Fredericksburg City Council May 22 to close the road to vehicular traffic.

The 6-1 decision was a victory for Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, whose officials conceived restoration of the battlefield landmark as the centerpiece of a $2 million improvement project in the next two to three years.
"We're very pleased," said park superintendent Sandy Rives. "I feel we can create a wonderful historic attraction here. A member of the council said it best when he said it was time to give the road back to the American people."

The park's proposal prompted objections that traffic would find its way onto neighboring streets, and that the handicapped, the elderly and others who depend on vehicles would be prevented from visiting the Sunken Road. But council members said the park had been sensitive to concerns.

The 18-foot-wide road on Marye's Heights was the focal point of a failed Union assault Dec. 13, 1862. From behind a stone wall bordering the road, Confederates fired down sloping ground into successive waves of attackers, tallying more than 7000 Federal casualties.

The National Park Service has allocated $580,000 in Fiscal Year 2002-03 to restore the road and adjacent landscape to its wartime appearance. The section to be closed is several hundred yards long, between Hanover Street and Lafayette Boulevard.

The remainder of the $2 million will go to create new exhibits for the nearby visitor center.

Archaeologists will attempt to locate the original bed of the 1830s thoroughfare, part of the "Telegraph Road" linking Fredericksburg and Richmond. The modern pavement will be replaced with a surface more similar to its wartime appearance and lowered to the original grade.

A fence that separates pedestrians from passing cars will be removed. "Visitors will be able to walk eight-tenths of a mile without having to deal with traffic," Rives said.

The road will remain open to cars till the work begins. Rives said much planning remains to be done, including deciding what surface material to use. "We can't have it like what it probably was in the winter of 1862-63, a mud bog," he said.
Other considerations include providing access to historic Brompton, the nearby home of the president of Mary Washington College, and determining what utilities lie under the road. Also, the park will decide to what extent they will replace missing sections of the stone walls that bordered the road. The walls' original foundations remain.

In arguing for the road closure in January, Rives said it was a matter of creating "a world-class attraction versus providing a road that people can drive on."

He argued that the closed road, which already is the most-visited historic site in the Fredericksburg area, would serve to boost tourism even more.

Rives pointed out that since the opening of a Fredericksburg bypass, the Blue-Gray Parkway, in 1996, and the closing of nearby Montfort Academy two years later, traffic on the Sunken Road has dropped nearly 80 percent, to about 275 vehicles a day.

Responding to objections to the closure, the park and the council discussed possible creation of a turnaround from adjacent Mercer and Willis streets so that visitors could view the road from their cars.

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