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Residents Say General Dynamics’ Traffic Could Jam Sunset Hills

by Karen Goff — January 21, 2016 at 10:30 am 13 Comments

Future site of General Dynamics on Sunset Hills RoadDefense contractor General Dynamics envisions one five-story building nestled into a wooded area off Sunset Hills Road in Reston for its new headquarters. It’s a complex with a small footprint, an unobtrusive security fence and on-site amenities for about 200 employees.

However, it is not the plans themselves that worry nearby residents and workers — it’s the added stress to Sunset Hills Road, which is two lanes in most spots and is already often a traffic jam during rush hour.

“I think it is a spectacular site plan,” said one citizen at a community meeting with General Dynamics representatives at South Lakes High School on Wednesday. “But Sunset Hills Road 45 years ago is exactly the same way it is today. Every other road has been brought into the 21st Century. This is the perfect time to bring [Sunset Hills] into the 21st Century.”

General Dynamics announced last week it intends to build a 190,000-square-foot headquarters on a 22-acre lot currently owned by Boston Properties. The project would have 300 parking spaces, most of them in a below-ground garage.

The site is at 11011 Sunset Hills, between Wiehle Avenue and Hunter Mill Road and bordered on one edge by the W&OD Trail.

There would be a guard house, but it would be set back into the property in an effort to avoid backups onto Sunset Hills at rush hour, said land use attorney Mark Looney, who is representing General Dynamics.

Looney said General Dynamics, which currently has about 1,000 employees in Fair Lakes and about 200 in Fairview Park (Falls Church), looked at many sites around the DC area before picking the Reston land.

“From a security standpoint, they wanted a facility where they would be the sole tenant,” he said. “They also wanted the build into a natural environment rather than be in an urban setting, but still be in close proximity to services and transportation.”

The site was approved by Fairfax County in 1999 for nearly 358,000 square feet of space spread over three buildings, as well as nearly 1,200 parking spaces, said Looney. The current footprint is much smaller, but does allow for a 30,000-square-foot-addition to the building in the future.

General Dynamics intends to keep many of the trees and plans to plant more during the construction process to build a natural privacy shield and sound barrier, said Looney.

He also said that there would be no public access to the site from the W&OD for security reasons.

The unobtrusive plans were fairly well received by citizens at the meeting. Their main concern was the potential traffic.

Looney said General Dynamics is not obligated to make traffic improvements, but may eventually give money to the Virginia Department of Transportation for road widening. The property rights include a 1 1/2 acre swath along Sunset Hills that can be used for an additional lane.

Two traffic impact studies are in the works and should be finished in the next few weeks, said Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins. Eventually, those findings may have an impact on road improvements. Looney said General Dynamics has also surveyed employees to see how many would plan on taking Metro to Wiehle-Reston East (nearby, but not necessarily walking distance) and boarding a shuttle.

That was good news to a resident of Equestrian Park, the residential development that has its main entrance on Sunset Hills Road, across from the General Dynamics site.

“We don’t go out for groceries between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.,” he said. “We can’t get out of our neighborhood. Traffic is that bad.”

Said Hudgins: “Studies are being done for that specific purpose. Improvements have to be made.”

Looney said several changes will probably be made to the site plan before final approval by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. The plans need to go through Fairfax County Planning & Zoning, the county planning commission and the board of supervisors.

He said he expects that to take most of 2016. Construction would take place in 2017 and 2018. General Dynamics’ Fairview Park lease ends at the end of 2018, at which point it would move into the new building.

Photo: Future site of General Dynamics HQ on Sunset Hills

  • Terry Maynard

    It is not just a Sunset Hills traffic problem, it is also a Hunter Mill Rd. (HMR) traffic problem–especially at the DTR overpass and ramps. Only one through lane each direction under the DTR and space for maybe 6 northbound cars to turn left on to Sunset Hills from HMR while waiting for the traffic light. Likely backups on the DTR waiting to get on HMR will be dangerous for both through and exiting DTR drivers.

    1. The DTR overpass needs to be expanded to allow at least two lanes in each direction plus a left turn lane for people using the DTR.

    2. The intersection of HMR at Sunset Hills needs to be moved north (maybe as far as a direct alignment with Crowell Rd.) to be safe and allow for the left-turn traffic on to Sunset Hills.

    3. HMR between at least Crowell and Sunrise Valley Drive needs to be widened to 2 through lanes in both directions.

    FYI: This is not the first time such a proposal has been made.

    • Steve

      You are correct. There’s a bigger traffic picture here. Was any of this discussed at the hearing or was it all about Sunset Hills? (I’m all for General Dynamics in Reston)

      • Karen Goff

        Mostly about Sunset Hills. A little about Hunter Mill and the wiehle intersection.

    • David

      Sunset Hills really should be connected to Crowell Rd. as was on the plans for 20 or 30 years. I agree that Hunter Mill needs more lanes under the DTR, but that is going to be very expensive. They were thinking of using toll money at one point before it was “diverted” to Metro.

  • Bike & Walk for Health

    The important point about W&OD access is that GD employees will not be able to access the site directly off the trail either. They will be forced to go up to Sunset Hills, and travel along Sunset Hills or any sidewalk that’s there to get to the entrance to the facility. It is truly a dis-incentive to biking or walking to work. That is why it is so important, when considering expansion of Sunset Hills to include adequate bike/pedestrian infrastructure.

    Additionally, if there is an adequate multi-use path from the station, it is less than a mile, so the idea of a shuttle except on inclement weather days is nice, but probably not necessary. Still, if they do that instead of putting all those cars on Sunset Hills it would be worth it. But still … less than a mile.

    I can envision a day when there will be a BikeShare station right in that area. But they need to get the infrastructure for everyone correct — pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. And as many have said, Sunset Hills is already “broken” in terms of traffic and it is directly related to the Hunter Mill intersection with the toll road.

    Oh, one more point, you didn’t reference that the people at Edlin School are also very upset about the traffic that prevents them from doing their pick-up/drop-off safely. I think he mentioned about 200 cars twice a day on Sunset Hills belong to Edlin families/staff and they would like “someone” to pay for a traffic light.

    • Mike M

      It would take a lot to make any commuter area bike-safe. I saw a guy riding his bike to work in the ice today. I recalled falling hard a few times as a kid in New England who learned not to bike in ice and snow. Why is it that these men (always men) cannot see the skyrocketing chances of a health (even death) risk they bring upon themselves when they put their bikes on the road at rush hour in Fairfax County? I admire the willingness to be physical in the great outdoors. I get that. But riding your bike at rush hour on the roads of Fairfax County is just reckless in the summer. It’s whack-a- doodle in the winter.

    • David

      Well, the Edlin school people are the cause of backups sometimes when the line to pick up kids extends out onto and down Sunset Hills. They should provide more space on their property to stack the cars waiting in line to pick up kids.

  • Mike M

    Good article. This is an important issue for East Reston.

  • static

    Looks like a good opportunity to champion a road and sidewalk widening project on Sunset Hiills all of the way from Michael Faraday to Hunter Mill, perhaps with a light at Business Center Dr..

  • Sam

    A pedestrian overpass for W&OD over Sunset would be ideal, as the AM traffic turning onto Business Center Dr routinely backs up into the crosswalk or beyond, which risks those crossing and jams traffic farther back.

    The bulk of my AM commute slow down is Sunset Hills between Plaza America and Business Center Drive. Any relief to that road would be appreciated. I avoid Sunset and Hunter Mill in the evenings at all costs.

  • KJU

    Who cares what residents think… Big business is more important than your traffic worries.

    • cRAzy

      Maybe to you, but not the tens of thousands who commute by auto even with Metro at Wiehle.

  • They should have built it over at Lake Anne for the traffic would not have been any problem there. After all they were adding 1,000 homes and 1,500 cars on a few acres at the entanrance to the Lake Anne Village. No problem.

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