By RCA President Colin Mills

Spring and the Silver Line opening both feel a long way away
right now.  When you’re digging out from
the latest snowstorm and reading about MWAA’s declaration that the
line isn’t ready for turnover
to Metro, it’s hard to convince yourself
But believe it or not, we are getting closer to both.  In the case of spring, the vernal equinox is
on March 20th, just a couple weeks away.  (The real beginning of spring, baseball’s
Opening Day, is a week and a half later.) 
With the Silver Line, unfortunately, we don’t yet have a firm opening
date.  But each day that passes brings us
closer to both long-awaited events.  For
now, all we can do is wait.
In the meantime, we can pass the time by preparing for the
impacts that the Metro will bring to Reston. 
The most notable of these is traffic. 
As RCA has stated repeatedly, new crossings of the Dulles Toll Road are key
to easing congestion around the Silver Line stations.  And of the proposed new crossings, the
Soapstone Connector is the furthest along. 
Last month, the County Department of Transportation
presented the latest on the Soapstone project to the Hunter Mill Transportation
Advisory Committee.  RCA Vice President
John Hanley attended the meeting, and he gave the Board an update last
week.  The good news is that the County
understands the importance of the project and is moving it along; however,
there are a couple of major questions that must be resolved before this
important link in Reston’s transportation network can be built.
The last time I
wrote about the Soapstone Connector
, back in May, the County was evaluating
several proposed alignments for the connector. 
They alignment has now been selected; it’s a hybrid of a couple of the
previous options.  And on the whole, it
looks pretty good. 
On the south side, the connector links up with Soapstone
Drive, which is a definite plus.  (You
might have assumed this was a given, since the project is called the “Soapstone
Connector,” but several of the alternatives would not have connected to
Soapstone.)  The alignment passes through
the existing National Association of Secondary School Principals building and
generally follows the western side of Association Drive before crossing the
Toll Road. 
On the north side, the connector will run to the west of the
BAE Systems building and the gas pipeline, and east of Plaza America, before
ending at a signalized intersection with Sunset Hills Road.  The connector will consist of two lanes over
the bridge and three lanes on either side (two travel lanes and a turn lane),
as well as bike lanes, a sidewalk, and a shared-use trail.  The connector will not provide access to the
Toll Road, but it will serve as a relief valve for crosstown traffic and for
those trying to access the Wiehle station from the south and west.
This alignment seems like a worthy compromise.  It’s a little farther away from the Wiehle
station than would be ideal, but it connects directly to Soapstone Drive and
requires relatively little disruption of existing properties.  Constructing two lanes over the Toll Road
instead of four holds down the overall cost of the project, and the bike lanes
and trails encourage pedestrian and bike travel to the station.
Sounds like a plan, right? 
Well, there are a couple things that still need to be dealt with before
the plan can become reality.  The biggest
ones are the challenges that face any infrastructure project: time and money.
When will the Soapstone Connector be ready?  We don’t know.  Ideally, it would be in place when the Wiehle
station opened, to divert some of the traffic from the immediate vicinity of
the station.  That obviously won’t
happen, but will it be ready during the years when Wiehle is the end of the
line?  Probably not.  The project hasn’t even begun preliminary
engineering yet; it’s not certain that construction will even occur during this
Part of the reason for that is the issue of funding.  The current cost estimate for the project is
$92 million, although that’s only a rough guess at this point.  Whatever the final cost, it’s certain to be a
significant outlay.  And so far, the
County has allocated only $2.5 million for further planning and study. 
Where will the rest of the money come from?  In all likelihood, funding will have to come
from several sources.  Hopefully,
developer proffers will be a piece of the puzzle.  But of course, that money wouldn’t be
available until redevelopment starts around the stations.  And that depends on economic conditions,
among other things.
Presumably, the Soapstone Crossing will be a key topic of
the “inclusive process” on transportation funding that the Supervisors called
for when they approved
the revised Comprehensive Plan
last month. 
RCA looks forward to participating in that process.  If we’re going to prevent the Toll Road
corridor from becoming a barrier that divides our community in half, we must
figure out how to pay for the transportation infrastructure we’ll need.  This is perhaps the most important
implementation question that we face as we prepare for the transformation of
the Toll Road corridor, and RCA is ready to be involved in finding the

In the meantime, we find ourselves waiting, just like we’re
waiting for spring and the Silver Line.  But
I am encouraged that the County is making progress on the connector, and that
they’ve selected an alignment that makes sense. 
RCA will continue watching both the Connector and the Silver Line.  We’ll keep you informed and keep advocating
for solutions that maximize the benefits and minimize the costs to our
community.  As for spring… sorry, you’re
on your own there.