After several years of discussion, the county has officially selected the likely path for the Soapstone Connector, a major $237 million connection planned between Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road in Reston.
At a board meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors selected one of several options for the layout of the project. The motion was approved without any discussion.
The vote kicks off the environmental process, which will conclude with a decision from the Federal Highway Administration. Once federal officials approve the environmental aspects of the project — which are governed by the National Environmental Policy Act — the project will move towards the design phase.
The connector will extend Soapstone Connector by a half-mile between Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road. It includes a crossing over the Dulles Toll Road, the Dulles International Airport Access Highway and the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station.
So far, early design work anticipates that the connection will include a three-line cross-section, on-road bicycle lanes on each side, a sidewalk on the west side and a shared-use path on the east side. The bridge include four travel lanes and on-road bicycle lines and paths from the rest of the connection.
The county has studied roughly 31 alternatives for the project. Most recently, an environmental assessment added an additional alignment north of the Dulles Toll Road for further discussion. The county is favoring an alternative that does not impact gas lines as significantly — which county staff said was an important consideration when reviewing gas transmission lines owned by Williams Gas Pipeline Transco. This alternative crosses the gas line over a shorter distance.
The county still favors the option of several discussed thus far: the southern terminus would be located at the intersection of Soapstone Drive and Sunrise Valley Drive, while the northern terminus would connect to Sunset Hills Road. The proposal would disrupt nine of 10 sites potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
A massive, half-mile road extension in Reston will likely have to cut through a historic district on Association Drive.
The Soapstone Connector would bring a new, direct link between Sunset Hills Road and Sunrise Valley Drive over the Dulles Toll Road — a critical connection that would relieve congestion on Wiehle Avenue.
As preliminary design work continues, county and state planners have revised an environmental assessment — first completed in 2017 — with updated traffic studies, summaries of previous public hearings, an impact analysis and additional documentation, according to Negin Askarzadeh, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s Soapstone Connector project coordinator.
The county’s transportation department held a meeting on the topic for the first time in several years last night (Monday). It was the first public meeting since 2018.
The county still favors one option of several discussed thus far: the southern terminus would be located at the intersection of Soapstone Drive and Sunrise Valley Drive, while the northern terminus would connect to Sunset Hills Road. The proposal would disrupt nine of 10 sites potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
A new memorandum of agreement between federal, state and county stakeholders details a number of mitigation measures to limit the impact on the historic area.
Askarzadeh also said a public historical report would be prepared in order to “meaningfully convey the importance of the district” as part of Reston’s planned community.
By 2046, the existing transportation network won’t be able to accommodate projected peak hour demand for travel in the area. The average delay at Reston’s major intersections is expected to increase from 40 to 80 seconds.
A draft evaluation — known in planning jargon as a 4(f) evaluation — also states that “there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land from the historic district,” according to the county. The report, completed in 2020, was recently approved for public availability.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is expected to make a decision on the preferred alternative for the project after reviewing the drafted agreement. The document also requires the approval of the Federal Highway Administration to determine that no other alternative is feasible to proceed with the project.
Once those approvals are in place, the county will coordinate with the Virginia Department of Transportation to begin designing the project.
At the meeting, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said he looks forward to the next steps in the planning process.
“This project has been a long time in the making so we’re moving forward,” Alcorn said.