In April, RCA’s Reston 20/20 Committee published a white paper on the proposed Soapstone Connector over the Toll Road, proposing criteria that should be used to select the more effective alignment. As a follow-up to the paper, RCA Board member Dick Rogers, along with other Reston civic leaders, met with Fairfax County Department of Transportation officials and their contractor to discuss the project. A report of that meeting, written by Dick and RCC Board member Bill Penniman, is below.
NOTE FOR THE RECORD
SUBJECT: Meeting with FC DOT Officers and Contractor Re: The Soapstone Connector
Summary and comment
Although FC DOT has taken aboard a variety of comments (including RCA, Bill Penniman, Joe Stowers, RA’s Pedestrian and Bike Access Committee and many individuals), they were not prepared to tell us about recommendations or conclusions on the Soapstone study. They were still in the process of agreeing on them. The study is still in process and they must brief Supervisor Hudgins first. For the most part, they were wary of saying anything definitive. However, they appear to be staying with the same parameters as presented earlier rather than covering options that some think would be more expeditious or economical alternatives.
On 12 June Bill Penniman, Joe Stowers and Dick Rogers met with Fairfax County Department of Transportation officials as well as contractor Warren Hughes for one and one half hours to discuss the Soapstone project. In addition to Hughes, the FC DOT staff was Jane Rosenbaum, overall supervisor, and Kinnari Radadiya, project manager. Rosenbaum spoke on all the broader issues leaving technical details to Hughes. Radadiya said little.
Asked where the study is now. Jane Rosenbaum said they are still working to come up with a proposal. But they are not ready “to issue an official or unofficial position.” They have not made a recommendation yet and are still interacting with Warren Hughes. They have not met with Supervisor Hudgins yet about their recommendations, which is essential before they issue a public recommendation.
(Note: On 19 June Hudgins’ transportation aide Paul Davis said the Supervisor has met with FC DOT officers on Soapstone on 17 June. He was cryptic about what had been discussed.)
Later in the conversation they were asked if Supervisor Hudgins “Board Action” of 19 March and subsequent Board endorsed call for higher priority to be given to Soapstone planning had made any difference. Rosenbaum said she was unsure what the “Board action” would ultimately do.
They did not indicate that they had broadened their consideration beyond the initial five parameters set out in their Feb-March presentations. Their comments did not indicate they were seeking ways to expedite construction or curtail costs beyond the routes already being considered.
Re property owners in the overall connector area, FC DOT staff said that there is no clear consensus on what should be done. No ground swell for one or another option. They did note that Association Drive area is much more susceptible to re=development than other areas.
Soapstone Drive Connection: They did not directly commend on this but noted the importance of respecting the views of those in south Reston uneasy about the location of the connection. The discussion focused on the detailed maps of several of the alternative routes but not on those that do not connect with directly with Soapstone Drive (such as the ones that intersect with Sunrise Valley to the east or west of Soapstone Drive).
Re doing the project in phases, they said the overall goal has been to connect Sunrise Valley and Sunset Hills, implying this means a continuous road built all at once.
Re connecting to Reston Station Blvd, they said that a specific connection to this proposed street was not initially in the scope of the study and is still outside it. However, they believe the connector can be integrated into the planned grid of streets and are taking proposed Reston Station Blvd into account. However, they do not have an exact fix on the location of the road and when it might be built.
Pedestrians: They said that an 8% grade is the maximum that they could envision. Under ADA restrictions a 5 % grade is the maximum for pedestrians. ADA also requires that you have to periodically build level areas into the walkway every few feet. They said they had heard “loud and clear” the RA PBAC view that there should be a link to the WOD trail
Bill Penniman reviewed with them his proposal (sent to DOT earlier) that the Connection could reach Sunset Hills with two lanes going between the BAE garage and the building immediately to the west. He noted that there are 34 feet between the garage and a free standing wall which could be removed to increase the available space to 48 feet. This would allow two lanes to connect to Sunset Hulls initially with widening to 4 lanes, if desired, when either of the neighboring buildings is re-developed. In the meantime, the other two lanes of the 4 lanes crossing would connect to Reston Station Blvd. and the future internal grid of streets. He also noted that this route could be extended across Sunset Hills which would allow a connection with the WOD, and to Isaac Newton Square with a short road that utilizes the existing VDOT parking lot.
Warren Hughes said they had studied this but that the criteria given them required 4 lanes to reach Sunset Hills from the outset. He also indicated that the route might compromise auto access to the BAE property since it would mean a crossing of Sunset Hills less than 650-750 ft from the signalized intersection at Metro Station Drive. Bill pointed out that the entry to the BAE property could be moved to the east which would avoid this possible problem.
Height above Dulles Toil Road: They indicated the travel lanes would be 25 ft above the DTR. However, the base of the bridge would need to be 17ft over the DTR lanes and to meet Metro’s clearance needs over the Metro tracks.
They noted a number of constraints influencing there thinking. They noted that it will be easier to get “broad approval” if the recommended alignment is part of the Reston Master Plan recommendations. To this end they are meeting with Heidi Merkel of DPZ on 19 June.
Regarding the proposed 10 ft wide shared use path (in addition to two bike lanes and a pedestrian walkway) they said this is part of the VDOT “urban standard.” “The shared use path services a different population than the other paths.” In its absence a waiver would be needed to justify elimination. They think they cannot exclude any feature that may create objections. This means that they cannot build a route for only one mode of transport. Similarly it is necessary to meet federal standards for federal funding, even if getting federal dollars is not certain.
Wiehle impact: In conclusion Rosenbaum said that we should remember that the Soapstone Connection “will not change the dynamic” of Wiehle traffic. The DOT model does not show it having the impact on traffic or improving access to the Station to the degree that RMAG predicted. On the other hand, she agreed that it would help to mitigate traffic at key intersection even if not as much as some have hoped.