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County Board Supports Proposed Soapstone Connector Route Amid Concerns about Historic Resources

County officials seek to proceed with construction of the Soapstone Connector, a major road extension between Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road, amid concerns the path of the half-mile extension would disturb potentially historically significant buildings on Association Drive.

On Sept. 25, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to support the county’s proposed route for $169 million project because buildings on Association Drive are not likely eligible a historical designation on the national register. The board’s approval responds formally to a Virginia Department of Historic Resources letter that urged the county work with the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board (ARB)  to determine if the buildings on Association are historically significant.

Earlier this year, the ARB raised concerns that the 1916 Association Drive and ten office buildings on Association Drive could be eligible for National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. The county’s environmental assessment of the property did not concur with the ARB’s analysis.

Construction of the connector, which will create a new crossing over the Dulles Corridor, is not anticipated to begin until after 2023.

Tom Biesiadny, director of the county’s transportation department, said the county was ready to pitch its proposed route in January when concerns about the historical significance of the buildings arose. After direction from state officials, the department consulted with boards, agencies, property owners and developers to determine how to proceed. Two historic studies commissioned by architectural historians offered conflicting opinions on the historical significance of the buildings, which served educational associations.

If the state’s historic resources department determines the proposed route of the Soapstone Connector impacts historic resources on the site, county officials will need to mull additional alternates to avoid disturbing any historic resources. But county officials hinted the overall discussion on the impact of possibly historically significant buildings was largely moot because the entire office park is slated for potential redevelopment as a mixed-use project. Reston’s comprehensive plan was amended in 2014 to allow high-density development in the area and property owners have long expressed eagerness to proceed with redevelopment.

“I think you’re looking at an uphill climb to preserve this area as a district,” said Frank Selden, director of the Fairfax County’s Department of Planning and Zoning.

Biesiadny also said the future road connection would run through the building on 1904 Association Drive, which is not likely of historical significance. The building that is likely historically significant is 1916 Association Drive and lies on the opposite side of where the connector would run through.

The board indicated overall support of the project, which it formally approved several years ago. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins said the connector was desperately needed to manage traffic generated by additional redevelopment and development.

“This would be an additional north-south crossing of which we have two that are already congested and [are] desperately in need of an alternative,” Hudgins said. She also suggested the county and the developer could acknowledge the historical significance of the buildings through other means.

An attempt to defer the vote to the board’s next meeting failed.

“This is not something that hasn’t been vetted and worked through,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova.

Although the state transportation department is procuring a consultant to design the Soapstone Connector, design work cannot begin unless state officials are aware of the final road alignment.

Photo via handout/Fairfax County Government

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Public Meeting on Soapstone Connector Set for July 19

County and state officials will present the findings of an architectural survey of ten parcels on Association Drive that could be impacted by the Soapstone Connector project on July 19.

The Soapstone Connector, approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2014, would connect Sunset Hills Road and the Sunrise Valley Drive crossing over the Dulles Toll Road. The half-mile road would cut through the western side of an office park and require the removal of properties on 1904 Association Drive.

The building is currently home to the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The latest architectural survey — called the Supplemental Phase 1 Architectural Survey in planning jargon — makes recommendations about whether or not specific sites are eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

During the meeting on July 19, officials from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation will seek public input on the survey.

The meeting will take place at the Hunter Mill District Office (1801 Cameron Glen Drive, Reston, VA 20190). An open house at 6:30 p.m. will be followed by a formal presentation at 7:15 p.m.

In order to qualify for listing in the historical register, buildings must be at least 50 years old or have “exceptional merit.” Buildings’ architectural value may also be considered in groups, not merely as individual properties.

The project is expected to cost $169.2 million.

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Fairfax County Seeks $132 Million for Soapstone Connector

Nearly $132 million is being sought to fund the Soapstone Connector, a long awaited, half-mile-long extension between Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road.

The funding request for the $169.2 million project comes roughly five years after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a hybrid design for the project, which will provide an additional overpass over the Dulles Toll Road and ease traffic on south Reston roads.

Major development in the Wiehle-Reston East area, including Comstock’s Reston Station mixed use project, is expected to generate additional traffic on area roadways.

Local and state officials have long identified the need for the project, which aims to alleviate bottlenecks along Wiehle Avenue at Sunset Hills Road and Sunrise Valley Drive and improve connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists to the Wiehle-East Metrorail Station.

According to preliminary plans, the new road will include a three-lane cross section with one travel lane in each direction and a two-way, left-turn-only lane. Other features include five-foot wide bicycle lanes on each side, a five-foot wide sidewalk on the west side and a 10-foot wide path on the east side.

Construction is not anticipated until after 2023. Additional design, engineering and environmental work is expected to continue through 2022.  In 2014, the county’s board placed the project on its list of high priority projects for 2015 to 2020.

A funding gap of $25 million remains to complete the project. Requests to the Commonwealth Transportation Board have been made. Construction is expected to cost $45 million.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will review the request, which is one of 60 candidate transportation projects in the area. NVATA is seeking public comment on the project on May 10 at 3040 Williams Drive, Suite 100 in Fairfax. Online comments can be submitted through Sunday, May 20.

File photo

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Monday Morning Notes

Public Meeting on Soapstone Connector Project Wednesday — The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is holding a public hearing on the environmental assessment for the Soapstone Connector Project this Wednesday, Nov. 8 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Dogwood Elementary School, 12300 Glade Dr. in Reston. A formal presentation of the assessment will be given at 7:15 p.m. Interested residents can view the full environmental assessment report online. Residents will be allowed to make formal comments during the meeting. In addition, written comments can be submitted up to 10 days after the meeting via email to [email protected] or via mail to Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT), 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400, Fairfax, VA, 22033. [Fairfax County Government]

Young Reston Woman Featured in News Special For Athletic Accomplishments — Reston native Rose Pleskow was featured on ABC7 News this past week as a rising star in international open-water swimming, as well as running. Born with intellectual disabilities and epilepsy, Rose has never let her obstacles stop her, and she won a bronze medal in the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, in the 1500-meter dash. Next up for Rose is a college degree, she told the TV news channel. [WJLA.com]

South Lakes High Earns Award for Scholastic Journalism — South Lakes High announced this week that it has been chosen as one of only four schools in Virginia to be honored with the Charles E. Savedge Award in scholastic journalism, for its excellence in producing its annual yearbook. The 2017-18 yearbook is currently available for pre-order. [South Lakes Yearbook/Twitter]

 

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Feb. 28 Public Hearing Slated for Transportation Project Funding Plan

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins/Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

A Fairfax County Board of Supervisors public hearing on Reston transportation projects set for Feb. 28 will address the projects’ funding plan. Questions asked about the project Tuesday prior to the board’s vote to approve the hearing, however, concerned design issues.

Supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield District) raised a number of questions for Tom Biesiadny, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, regarding concerns he has with the plan itself.

“If you take some of the costs out of the project, the impact on both the citizens and the new businesses would be less,” Herrity said.

The overall project — which includes road widening and upgrades to intersections and interchanges, in addition to construction of new Dulles Toll Road crossings — is estimated to cost in excess of $2.2 billion.

Reston Transportation Funding Plan

Herrity asked Biesiadny about a proposed Town Center Parkway underpass of the Toll Road, projected to cost $170 million. Herrity inquired why an underpass was determined to be more cost-effective than an overpass.

“Because of the topography, the Toll Road actually sits above the intersection of Town Center Parkway and Sunset Hills,” Biesiadny explained. “You would be starting below the Toll Road and having to go up and over it, as opposed to tunneling under it.”

Herrity also had a number of concerns about the proposed Soapstone Drive overpass of the Toll Road, among them the structure of the lanes in the proposal. The plan calls for two driving lanes on each side of the bridge with a two-lane left-turn area, becoming four lanes of traffic across the overpass.

The idea is that we would only want to go over the Toll Road once, so you would provide some additional capacity should you ever need it in the future,” Biesiadny said.

The four lanes over the Toll Road would be a total of 36 feet wide. The plan calls for 33 1/2 feet of space for pedestrians and bicyclists, another figure that Herrity questioned.

“So we’re going to have as much room on that bridge for bikes and pedestrians as we are for car traffic,” he said, asking for data to back up the need.

Biesiadny said projections have shown there will be a large amount of foot and pedal traffic across the connector.

Given its location adjacent to the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station, we do think there is going to be a significant number of people using bikes and pedestrians to access the station, as well as the development that will be occurring around there,” he said.

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (Hunter Mill District) said the community has decided that increased walkability and access for bicyclists is important to the future of transportation.

“What you will see in this project, and I think what the community has been stressing, is the compactness of the transportation infrastructure. That is, you see fewer turn lanes because, guess what, pedestrians require attention from those on the road in order to safely traverse those areas and make the connectivity. I think the most important part about it is… the value that this returns to the overall community in the way that we build the transportation infrastructure and land owners can actually construct the development. If we make a mistake there, it becomes not well used and thus not a return in value to the community and those who own the land.”

The public hearing on project funding was approved by the board and scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Screen capture of Supervisor Cathy Hudgins speaking at Jan. 24 meeting, via Fairfax County website

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Soapstone Connector Environmental Studies Continuing This Summer

Map of suggested Soapstone extension/Credit: Fairfax CountyAn environmental assessment for the planned Soapstone connector is proceeding as planned, but it will still be several months before Fairfax County Department of Transportation officials have any final conclusions on the project’s impact to Reston’s environment.

The Soapstone connector will be an extension of Soapstone Drive that will run from Sunrise Valley Drive to Sunset Hills Road, providing Reston with a third crossing of the Dulles Toll Road and alleviating traffic on nearby major roads.

So far, though, the project, which was approved by county supervisors in 2014, has not been found to impact historic resources or wetlands, FCDOT project manager Audra Bandy said at a community meeting on Wednesday.

Noise and air quality studies are ongoing, she said.

The environmental assessments, which will take into account a variety of factors (see presentation below), should be finished in fall of 2016. A final decision from federal authorities on the environmental assessment should be available by fall of 2017, she said.

In the meantime, the county must work with state and federal sources to try and find funding for the project.

In 2014, the supervisors included $2.5 million for the preliminary design of this project as part of its Six Year Transportation Project Priorities. At that time, they also put the project — estimated then to cost $91.75 million — on the county’s list of high-priority projects for 2015-20.

Bandy said at a meeting in October that FCDOT should have a more specific cost estimate this fall.

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Studying Soapstone Connector Impact Will Take Another Year

Suggested routes for Soapstone extension/Credit: Fairfax CountyFairfax County Department of Transportation officials were at South Lakes High School on Monday to give a progress report on the planned extension of Soapstone Drive.

The Soapstone Connector will provide an additional overpass of the Dulles Toll Road with the goal of easing traffic on south Reston roads, particularly in the area of the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station.

Just don’t look for it to be built any time soon. While a feasibility study was conducted in 2013 and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a hybrid design from among several options in April of 2014, no funding has been designated.

FCDOT’s Audra Bandy also said the project needs to go through the environmental review process, which will take about a year. That will include looking at land use, community impact, traffic, safety, noise, water quality and other environmental factors over the next 12 months.

“This is a very important connection for [FCDOT],” Bandy said Monday. “We really need to find ways to relieve traffic.”

Some of the most critical needs: alleviating bottlenecks along Wiehle Avenue at Sunset Hills Road and Sunrise Valley Drive; providing direct access for buses across the Dulles Corridor and to Wiehle-Reston East without requiring travel on Wiehle Avenue; and offering improved connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists to the Metro station from points north and south of the Toll Road.

In 2014, the supervisors included $2.5 million for the preliminary design of this project as part of its Six Year Transportation Project Priorities. At that time, they also put the project — estimated to cost $91.75 million — on the county’s list of high-priority projects for 2015-20.

An exact price tag won’t be known until the connector is farther along.

According to the preliminary plans, the road, which will have three lanes approaching the bridge and four lanes on the bridge, will require demolition of several office buildings on Association Drive. Bandy said that cost will not be assessed until after Fall 2016.

Several area residents attending Monday’s meeting had concerns about the project. Among the questions — why was the environmental study not done prior to the feasibility study.

“The feasibility study just looked at if it is feasible,” said Bandy. “The [environmental impact] is what we are looking at now.”

Presently, the impact is only being studied in the immediate area of where the connector will be built. But the study will expand depending on which factor is being studied, officials said.

Residents also pointed out concerns with traffic flow, particularly on Soapstone, and lack of connectivity with the W&OD Trail.

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Whatever Happened to: Plans for the Soapstone Connector?

Suggested routes for Soapstone extension/Credit: Fairfax County

Fairfax County has been examining for years how best to build a Soapstone Drive connection between Sunset Hills Road and Sunrise Valley Drive.

A connector would provide an additional car and pedestrian crossing over the Dulles Toll Road, alleviating some of the traffic on Reston Parkway and Wiehle Avenues. It would also offer an additional way for pedestrians to access the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station.

Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation (FCDOT) will host a public information meeting to give an update on the project on Monday, Oct. 26, at South Lakes High School, 11400 South Lakes Dr.

The meeting takes place from 6-8 p.m., with a short presentation at 7 p.m. Staff will be on hand to discuss the project and answer questions.

Authorities agree that Reston needs the additional crossing. At issue is how to pay for it.

The Soapstone Connector Project was included in the Reston Comprehensive Plan Amendment, which was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in February 2014. After studying several options and obtaining community feedback for a crossing, the Supervisors in April of 2014 approved a hybrid design combining elements of two of the options.

Also in 2014, the Board of Supervisors included $2.5 million for the preliminary design of this project as part of its Six Year Transportation Project Priorities. At that time, they also put the project — estimated to cost $91.75 million — on the county’s list of high-priority projects for 2015-20.

An exact price tag won’t be known until the connector is farther along. What could be coming soon are updates estimates, an environmental impact study and preliminary engineering.

Additionally, there would be a four-way intersection with traffic signal at Sunrise Valley, as well as another four-way intersection with no signal, or perhaps a traffic roundabout, on the Sunset Hills side, planners said. Several properties would be affected, as the road will run right though buildings on Association Drive south of the toll road, as well as several buildings on the north side.

Graphic: Routes studied for Soapstone extension/Credit: Fairfax County

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Supervisors OK Soapstone Extension Option

Traffic on Wiehle Avenue/Credit: Reston 2020The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday to endorse the hybrid alternative for the Soapstone crossing to connect Sunset Hills Road and Sunrise Valley Drive.

The Supervisors’ endorsement would enable the crossing to go into the preliminary design phase, getting Reston one step closer to an additional way to cross the Dulles Toll Road and alleviate traffic.

In February, Fairfax County Transportation Department staff and the County Executive recommended that the Board of Supervisors endorse the Recommended (Hybrid) Alternative. That alternative is a combination of several alternatives for the crossing presented to citizens in 2013. 

The Soapstone extension will create a direct connection between Sunrise Valley Drive, Soapstone Drive and Sunset Hills Road; reduce traffic on Wiehle Avenue; increase connectivity across the Dulles Toll Road; and enhance access to Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station, county officials said.

Without major road improvements — including several more toll road crossings — traffic could be a disaster, development-watchers say.

Transportation staff developed four options in a report in February of 2013. The hybrid combines two of them: a direct extension of Soapstone that crosses slightly northwest and ends at a new intersection at Sunset Hills.

The plan would impact several properties on both side of the toll road, including Solus and Musica on the north side and the National Association of Secondary School Principals on the south.

Additionally, there would be a four-way intersection with traffic signal at Sunrise Valley, as well as another four-way intersection with no signal, or perhaps a traffic roundabout, on the Sunset Hills side, planners said.

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors included $2.5 million for the preliminary design of this project as part of its Six Year Transportation Project Priorities. Funding is currently programmed for fiscal year 2015 in Fund 40010, County and Regional Transportation Projects, the county says.

A Soapstone crossing (at a cost of $91.75 million) has already been identified on the county’s list of high-priority projects for 2015-20.

An exact price tag won’t be known until the connector is farther in the planning process. An environmental impact study will also be forthcoming.

To see graphics and other details of the hybrid alternative, see this Fairfax County proposal.

Photo: Reston traffic/Credit: Reston 2020

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