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]
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.
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
An 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.
Fairfax 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.
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
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