Environmental Approval Still Pending for $170 Million Soapstone Connector Project

State and local transportation officials have been working for more than a year on clearing the Soapstone Connector through the environmental approval phase — one of the latest hurdles for the roughly $170 million project.

The connector — which extends Soapstone Drive from Sunrise Valley Drive over the Dulles Toll Road to Sunset Hills Road — provides a new north-south alternative to tackle increasing traffic congestion on Wiehle Avenue. By the time the project breaks ground, hundreds of additional residential units are expected to come on the market in Reston.

County transportation officials are working with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to determine the next steps for the project after the state determined a group of buildings on Association Drive the project could cut through are considered historic. The Fairfax County Department of Transportation must conduct an alternatives analysis to find possible ways to reduce the impact on the buildings.

Discussions have been ongoing for more than year. The county’s Architectural Review Board first determined the collection of buildings could be historically significant in early 2018. Since then, county staff have been trying to chart the best path forward to minimize the impact on the buildings  — which are considered historic as a collection, but not on an individual basis.

More hurdles are expected as the project goes through design and planning. Construction isn’t expected to begin until the mid to late 2020s.

“Anytime you’re building a new major project in a built environment, it’s more challenging than if we’re working out in a cornfield,” Tom Biesiadny, FCDOT’s director, told Reston Now. “None of them are insurmountable.”

Although funding for the project has not been secured yet, Biesiadny says the county has enough dollars to finish project design, which will move forward once the county receives necessary environmental approvals. The county plans to then tackle right-of-way and land acquisition between 2022 and 2024. Utility relocation is also complicated by the fact that area businesses rely on fiber optic cables along Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road.

“At the moment, money is not holding anything up,” Biesiadny said. “It’s several years out before we need the construction dollars.”

So far, the project has $24 million secured from federal, regional and local funds. A $45.4 million grand application for Smart Scale funding has been submitted. The county plans to continue to aggressively apply for grant funding.

The connector has been on the county’s planning books for years. A hybrid design for the project received county approval in 2014.

Map via Fairfax County Government

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Fairfax Connector’s Driver Shortage Complicates Riders’ Commute

For at least two weeks, the Fairfax Connector has been struggling with a shortage of bus drivers.

Although county officials say the number of missed and delayed trips has dropped over the last week, the shortage continues to impact riders’ commutes across the county. Some riders say buses have missed multiple trips for the last three weeks. Other buses have been delayed.

A service operation alert on the Fairfax Connector’s BusTracker website that previously alerted riders about the shortage was taken down. County officials are unsure why the alert is no longer on the website.

Tom Biesiadny, the director of Fairfax County’s transportation department, told Reston Now that MV Transportation, the current operator for the system, is “working through staffing issues.”

The county plans to switch operators to Transdev North America on July 1. The operator, which was awarded a five-year contract by the county, has started training bus drivers as part of its hiring process. Under the $443 million contract, Transdev will have 730 employees and operate 308 vehicles.

Although the cause and extent of the bus driver shortage is unclear, Biesiadny said the limited bus drivers is a regional issue.

“With the economy doing pretty well and unemployment being very low particularly in Northern Virginia, there’s a shortage of workers in general,” he said.

County officials urged riders to plan their trips ahead of time and check Twitter, Facebook and the Fairfax Connector’s BusTracker for the latest updates.

Riders can also text bus stop IDs to 414-11 to obtain information on trips and the latest bus schedules.

“What we’re trying to make sure that passengers know is that they should sign up for Bus Tracker emails or text alerts to make sure they see any important alerts,” Anna Nissinen, chief of communications for FCDOT, said. “That’s the best way to stay on top of travel.”

Photo via Facebook

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Monday Morning Notes

A Recap of Reston Association’s Volunteer Awards — “In Reston there is more than live, work and play. “Its volunteers are the backbone of Reston,” said Hank Lynch, Reston Association CEO. In a celebration of Reston Association’s outstanding volunteers from 2018, its board of directors and staff extended their appreciation and thanks to the more than 1,423 volunteers, businesses and community partners who gave of their time to make a positive impact on the community.” [The Connection]

55+ Bike Ride Around Old Town Alexandria — Join RA for a multi-modal ride from Reston to Old Town Alexandria tomorrow from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. [Reston Association]

Transportation Committee Seeks Members — Reston Association’s Multimodal Transportation Advisory Committee seeks new members to help shape transportation in Reston. Applications can be submitted online to RA’s Board of Directors. [Reston Association]

Flick pool photo by vantagehill

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MWAA: More Drivers Using Dulles Toll Road Than Expected After Toll Increase

Despite a toll increase that went into effect in January, more drivers are using the Dulles Toll Road than the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority anticipated.

Between January and March, tolls brought in $46.4 million — 31 percent more compared to the same period last year. That gives the MWAA $11.2 million to work with in order to fund phase two of the Silver Line.

Even though the number of toll transactions dipped by 4.8 percent compared to the previous year, transactions were 1.3 percent higher than MWAA expected. So far this year, there have been 21.7 million transactions.

The cost of operations also increased this year. Year-to-date expenses were $1.3 million or 17 percent higher than the same period last year. MWAA attributed this increase to $1 million in operating expenses for expanded service and $300,000 in transaction fees.

Toll prices increased for the first time in four years from $2.50 to $3.25 and from $1 to $1.50 at ramps in order to cover phase two of the Silver Line past Reston Town Center to Dulles International Airport and Ashburn. Another increase is expected in 2023.

Photo via MWAA

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FCDOT Seeking Locals’ Input for Fairfax County Parkway Changes

(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) Locals in Reston will have a chance to provide feedback this week to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) on a study looking at the Fairfax County Parkway from Route 7 to Route 1.

FCDOT is working with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on the “Fairfax County and Franconia-Springfield Parkways Alternatives Analysis and Long Term Planning Study,” which stretches 31 miles and consists of 83 intersections and 17 interchanges.

Some questions that the study wants to address include:

  • the degree to which existing intersections should be considered for conversion to interchanges or under/overpasses
  • how transit should be integrated into the corridor
  • bicycle/pedestrian mobility

Tolling is off the agenda after FCDOT sought feedback from the community last fall. “Strong public participation, with more than 200 people attending meetings and 15,150 responses to the online survey, informed the formulation of strategies that will be discussed at the upcoming round of public meetings and led to the removal of tolling along the parkway as one of the approved strategies for improvement,” according to a FCDOT press release.

Ultimately, the study will provide recommendations for 2040 and beyond and will consider whether or not changes should be made to the county’s current transportation plan.

The meeting is set to take place on Thursday (March 28) at the Armstrong Elementary School (11900 Lake Newport Road).

The meeting will start with a presentation at 7 p.m. followed by a question and answer period at 7:30 p.m. and time for public input activities at 8 p.m. The Reston event is one of three public information sessions — the other two are at Fairfax and Springfield.

Locals will be able to give their feedback to the FCDOT study team in person. For people unable to attend the meeting, FCDOT will upload the meeting presentation to the study webpage by Thursday, April 4, and accept feedback through an online survey until midnight on Monday, May 6.

The input is meant to guide the study team to determine which improvements will be developed for screening and testing.

Courtesy via VDOT

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FCDOT Seeks Input on Fairfax Connector Service in Herndon, Reston 

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) is seeking public input on the Fairfax Connector in the Herndon-Reston area as it looks toward improvements for the local bus service.

Future recommended improvements will also consider connecting the planned Metrorail Silver Line Phase 2 stations in Herndon and Reston, according to the county.

Ultimately, FCDOT aims to increase mobility and schedule reliability, create better access to destinations, improve travel times and grow ridership.

Over the next few weeks, Fairfax Connector staff will hand out information about how locals can get engaged and provide input, along with “free ride coupons” for use on all Fairfax Connector buses in the Herndon-Reston area.

Locals can provide feedback in a variety of ways, including:

  • attending an interactive community meeting
  • filling out an online survey
  • emailing input to [email protected]
  • mailing comments to 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400 in Fairfax, Va.

FCDOT will hold two interactive community meetings with interactive exercises to explore travel needs, issues and ideas. The first one is scheduled to take place at the RCC Lake Anne’s Jo Ann Rose Gallery (1609-A Washington Plaza) from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Jan. 26. The second one is set to take place at the Herndon Middle School’s cafeteria (901 Locust Street) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

People have until Feb. 15 to provide public input. After the deadline, FCDOT staff will compile the comments to incorporate into future planning.

FCDOT will then come back to the community in the spring to hold more community meetings to present and discuss a draft plan for future improvements for the service area.

The move to improve the bus service comes just a month after changes to the bus schedule were announced to make it easier for Herndon High School students to catch a ride were unveiled.

Starting on Saturday (Jan. 19), Routes 924 and 926 will be adjusted to align with the school’s bell schedule and provide better access for Herndon High School students.

File photo

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Delegates Call to Freeze Tolls for Federal Workers Commuting to Unpaid Work

Del. Ken Plum and 14 members of the Virginia General Assembly want toll relief for federal workers who are commuting on Virginia toll roads — including the Dulles Greenway — to go to their unpaid jobs as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history continues without an end in sight.

On Friday (Jan. 11), the 15 members sent a letter to the Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine and Greg Woodsmall from the Toll Road Investors Partnership II, L.P., urging them to work with EZ-Pass to develop a system to freeze tolling Virginian workers who are forced to work without pay during the current government shutdown.

“It is suggested that this letter [from the workers’ respective departments] is submitted in conjunction with their EZ-Pass transponder number and that this number be used to freeze the transponder’s ability to charge the petitioning Virginian during the entirety of their furlough,” the members wrote in the letter.

They also urged Valentine and Woodsmall to design a way to reimburse tolls that were collected from Dec. 20 —  the beginning of the federal government shutdown — until the shutdown ends.

Virginia is the sixth most affected state by the shutdown with more than 34,000 workers who are affected by the furlough and a “significant number of them” who are expected to work without pay, according to the letter.

“These hardworking Virginians are TSA agents, United States Marshalls, FBI agents and others who are working hard to protect our nation and state, allowing our nation’s operations to continue during the government shutdown,” the members wrote.

Del. Karrie Delaney, who represents a large population of federal workers in the 67th District, which includes parts of Herndon, said that the letter is an opportunity to provide some financial relief for the federal workers who “are trying to figure out how they are going to make ends meet.”

“I represent TSA Agents, United States Marshalls, and FBI agents who are currently working without pay in order to protect our nation and our state,” Delaney said in a press release. “These residents are still going to work every day to ensure our nation’s operations continue, but they are not receiving a paycheck.”

File photo

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Second Democrat Joins Race for Hunter Mill District Supervisor’s Seat

Shyamali Hauth is joining the race to unseat Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins.

Hauth, a United States Air Force veteran and community advocate, announced her candidacy last night (Jan. 9) at the Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee meeting.

Hauth is focused on construction practices, budgets, security and education systems, according to her website. She wants to tackle transportation issues and affordable housing with SMART housing solutions.

“Our local government is where the rubber meets the road,” Hauth said in the press release. “This is where we make change that affects each of us on a daily basis. I want Fairfax County, and specifically the Hunter Mill District, to be the leading edge of a progressive vision of community.”

Other major issues she wants to address include:

  • public education
  • environmental issues
  • securing funding for social services
  • developing public-private partnerships that help businesses
  • keeping a low unemployment rate

She lives in Reston with her husband, who is also an Air Force veteran. Two of their four children attended Fairfax County public schools, according to her bio.

She has worked with Rescue Reston to preserve the Reston National Golf Course from development. She founded her own group called Hear Our Voice-Reston (HOV-R) where she led 70 people who worked to elect progressive candidates in Virginia in 2017. The group then joined up with Herndon Reston Indivisible, her bio says.

She also works with the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Virginia as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. The Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee awarded her the Ed Herlihy Activist Award for 2018.

Currently, she chairs the Fairfax County Democratic Committee’s Veterans and Military Families Committee, according to her LinkedIn profile. She is also an independent business owner of Mahari Yoga, a veteran-owned business that offers yoga therapy in Northern Virginia, and self-employed as a Celtic harp instructor, professional speaker, according to LinkedIn.

She studied psychology and management at Saint Leo University in Florida. After receiving her Masters of Science in human resource management from Troy State University in Alabama, she joined the Air Force.

Hauth plans to host a listening session for Reston residents next Thursday (Jan. 17) night.

Another Democrat, Parker Messick, announced his campaign for the seat in December. Messick is running on a platform to “stop big development.”

Hudgins, who is nearing the end of her fifth term, was first elected to the board in 1999. The election for the county’s Board of Supervisors will take place on Nov. 5.

Photo via Shyamali Hauth for Board of Supervisors/Facebook

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$11.1 Million in Upgrades to Sugarland Run Bridge Planned

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on the widening of the westbound Route 7 bridge over Sugarland Run on Oct. 23 (Tuesday) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Dranesville Elementary School (1515 Powells Tavern Place).

The bridge, which was built in 1947, will be widened and repaired and a new concrete bridge deck will be installed. Additionally, the acceleration lane from the Fairfax County on-ramp to Dranesville Road will be extended.

Upgrades to guardrails and the curb and gutter in the area of the bridge are also planned.

Construction is anticipated to begin in 2021 and the project will cost roughly $11.1 million, including $1.2 million for engineering, $655,000 for right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation and $9.2 million for construction.

Photo via VDOT

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County Mulls Longterm Improvements to Fairfax County Parkway

Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation is exploring ways to improve Fairfax County Parkway. In concert with the state transportation officials, the county plans to begin a multi-corridor study for Fairfax County Parkway from Route 7 to Route 1, covering a span of 31 miles with 83 intersections and 17 interchanges.

The study will offer longterm recommendations for 2040 and review whether or not changes to the county’s current transportation plan are warranted. According to the county, the study will offer “intensive analysis” to spot major problem areas and deficiencies.

Once completed, the study will explore the possibility of tolling and HOV lanes on the parkways, bicyclist and pedestrian mobility, the integration of transit, and if current intersections should be converted into interchanges, overpasses, and underpasses.

The county will lead a public meeting about the study in Reston on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. in Armstrong Elementary School (11900 Lake Newport Road). A presentation by the county will be followed by an opportunity for public input at 8 p.m.

After initiating a public engagement period, the county will pitch possible ideas to the public by the winter of next year and kickstart another round of public outreach. Officials plan to solidify recommendations by the summer of next year, review study recommendations with the public in the fall and explore any comprehensive plan amendments that might be necessary by the spring of 2020.

A short term study on transportation issues and recommendations for improvements along Fairfax County Parkway and Franconia-Springfield Parkway was completed in 2016. The 113-page report included a mix of recommendations, including improvements to trail crossings on the northbound ramp from Fairfax County Parkway to Sunset Hills Road.

Other meetings on the longterm study are set for today at Navy Elementary School (3500 West Ox Road in Fairfax) and on Thursday at Sangster Elementary School (7420 Reservation Drive in Springfield).

Photo via Virginia Department of Transportation

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Give transit a try — Fairfax County officials are encouraging residents to go car-free for a day and try an alternative to drive-alone commuting. If you take a pledge to take transit during the week, you could win a year of free transit service from a participating Virginia transit operator. [Fairfax County Government]

A special text from the president for Oct. 3 — A national alert test originally set for Thursday has been postponed to Oct. 3 due to the ongoing response to Hurricane Florence. It’s the first-ever national test of the country’s Wireless Emergency Alerts system. [Fairfax County Government]

Housing affordability meeting postponed — Tomorrow’s meeting on ways to boost housing affordability in the area has been postponed. A new date has not been scheduled yet. The meeting concerns phase two of the Communitywide Strategic Plan. [Fairfax County Government]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Behind the video — In this follow-up story, the man who recorded a video of a former Reston Association employee yelling racial slurs tells his side of the story. [WJLA]

Heat advisory continues today — The National Weather Service has issued an advisory from noon to 8 p.m. today. Residents are encouraged to limit outdoor activity, wear loose-fitting clothing and hydrate as much as possible. [National Weather Service]

It’s not too late — Slots in select Frying Pan Farm Park camps are still open. The park offers camps for children between the ages of 3 and 14. [Frying Pan Farm Park]

Nearby: funding for transportation — Fairfax County projects will get more than 40 percent of the more than $1 billion allocated for regional transportation projects. Several proposals for Reston projects didn’t make the cut. [Fairfax County Times]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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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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Hackathon in Reston to Explore Solutions for Gridlock in Fairfax

Entrepreneurs, technology companies and students are invited to tackle one of the county’s most pressing challenges on November: historically gridlocked transportation.

The county and the Virginia Department of Transportation are partnering to present the Transportation and Mobility Hackathon on Nov. 16 and 17 at the Refraction in Reston. Registration ends on Monday at 5 p.m. Space is limited and the event begins at 10:30.

Participants will have the opportunity to pitch projects for future collaborations with public and private partners. Cash prizes for ideas range between $1,500 and $3,000. The hackathon is designed to open doors for creative, new technologies that will relieve congestion, boost safety and improve mobility especially for seniors and individuals with disabilities.

In a statement, the county indicated the event is intended to “spur the development of innovative new technologies and grow and diversify our economy.”

The event is sponsored by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, George Mason University, 1776, Virginia Tech and Refraction.

Email Eta Davis for more information.

 

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Fairfax County Seeks Public Comment on Soapstone Drive Extension Tonight

Plans to extend Soapstone Drive could move forward as Fairfax County officials seek public comment tonight on the project, which would create an additional crossing on the Dulles Toll Road for cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

At Dogwood Elementary School (12300 Glade Drive) from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., the floor will be open for the public to comment on a environmental assessment completed as part of a multi-step process since the Board of Supervisors approved the project in 2014. The study examines the potential effects of the project for properties listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historical Places, the country’s official list of historic sites worthy of preservation.

The new roadway will provide a half-mile extension between Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road and a new crossing over the Dulles Corridor. County officials have said the project is necessary to tackle congestion on Wiehle Avenue, limited access for buses to Wiehle-Reston East Station and the lack of connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists in the area.

Completed in August, the assessment reviews impacts of the project on surrounding land. For example, the assessment finds the project rests within 200 feet of on two sites with hazardous materials and would result in increased noise for two areas near the project.

Overall, the assessment concludes the project will not “contribute substantially to cumulative impacts, particularly in light of the efforts to minimize adverse impacts of the project and other mitigation measures to be implemented.”

Following the public hearing, the county will revise the assessment as needed and submit it to the Federal Highway Administration, the body which will make a decision about the feasibility of the project.

In 2014, the county’s 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.

More information on the project is available on the county’s website. Written or oral comments may be submitted at the hearing or in writing within 10 days after the hearing to [email protected]. Include “Soapstone Connector” in the subject line.

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