As the opening of the Silver Line draws ever closer, Reston’s citizens are keeping a close eye on traffic. How will our roads be affected by the new Wiehle Metro station? What is being done (or not being done) to alleviate congestion and ensure that Restonians will be able to access our own station?
After the activism on this issue by RCA and others, Supervisor Hudgins has begun taking action to improve access in the station area. (Last week, I sent a letter to her
on behalf of RCA thanking her for her efforts.) One of the keys to
reducing congestion around the station, the Supervisor and most
Restonians agree, is additional crossings of the Dulles Toll Road.
The north-south roads that pass over the Toll Road are Reston’s
biggest traffic choke points. (I can attest to this, as I sit in
backups every evening on Reston Parkway traveling to pick up my daughter
after work.) The congestion will only get worse as thousands of people
from inside and outside of Reston try to get to the station. With only
a handful of crossings to carry all that demand, we’re going to need
additional outlets to keep Reston moving.
The top priority for a new crossing is what’s known as the “Soapstone Connector.” This
would start around the current end of Soapstone Drive and connect
Sunrise Valley with Sunset Hills, passing over the Toll Road near the
Wiehle station. This would not only provide an alternate route for
people accessing the station from south Reston, but it would also serve
as a relief valve for cross-town traffic seeking to avoid the backups at
Wiehle or Reston Parkway.
Supervisor Hudgins has called for making the Soapstone Connector a
priority, and the County is studying several possible alignment
options. RCA’s Reston 20/20 Committee looked at the options and last
week, we issued a paper, The Soapstone Connection: A Bridge to Reston’s Future, outlining our recommendations.
Reston 20/20’s paper, written by the hard-working Dick Rogers,
doesn’t just pick a favorite of the options on the table. It also looks
at the criteria being used to evaluate the options, and suggests a few
new criteria to ensure that the Connector provides the greatest possible
benefit to Reston.
The County’s evaluation criteria are pretty broad, like “Connect
Sunrise Hills and Sunrise Valley” and “Reduce traffic impact on
Wiehle.” These are good goals, but by themselves, they might not lead
us to the best solution. We suggested adding several criteria for a
more thorough evaluation. I’ll describe some of them here.
Expedite Construction: The Wiehle station is supposed to open
at the end of this year. There’s not a lot of time! The Soapstone
Connector won’t be ready for the station opening, but we should aim to
complete it as quickly as possible, in keeping with Supervisor Hudgins’
One way to speed construction is to reduce the land acquisition and
demolition needed. Acquiring buildings and land costs money and takes
time, and both are at a premium. Unfortunately, most of the proposed
alignments would require either demolishing buildings or buying up much
developable land on the south side of the Toll Road.
As an alternative, 20/20 suggests routing the Connector along
existing Association Drive. The road would need to be improved, but
since there’s already an existing right-of-way, land acquisition costs
would be minimized and construction could move much faster.
Consider a “Bridge Diet”: The current plan under consideration
for the Connector includes four lanes for vehicles, two bike lanes, a
sidewalk and a 17-foor-wide “shared use path.” That seems like
overkill. I understand that the County is looking at a “worst-case
scenario” for the amount of land required, but we should be looking at
what we’re actually going to need.
For one thing, one bike lane is probably enough. And if the bikes
have a dedicated lane, we probably don’t need the shared-use path
either. Also, it might be worth considering a two-lane bridge. After
all, Soapstone is a two-lane road. We’ll need a four-lane bridge
eventually, but might it save time and money to build two lanes now and
include footings for future expansion? Something to think about.
Give Higher Priority to Reducing Wiehle Avenue Congestion and Providing Access to the Station:
If a prime goal of the Connector is to get people to the station,
wouldn’t it make sense to run it as close to the station as possible?
When the Reston Metrorail Access Group originally called for the
Soapstone Connector in 2009, they recommended running it right next to
the station. That turned out not to be feasible, but we should still
keep it as close as possible.
Some of the proposed alignments run well west of the station.
Routing the Connector there would serve Plaza America much better than
it would the station. Wherever the Connector is routed, there will
need to be another street connecting it to the station. The farther
away the Connector is, the longer it will take for that street to be
built. And if the Connector just winds up taking the traffic jam from
Wiehle and dumping it on Sunset Hills, we’re not helping ourselves.
Require a Direct Connection to Soapstone Drive: Several of the
proposed alignments of the so-called “Soapstone Connector” don’t
connect to Soapstone at all! One starts as far east as Commerce Park
Drive (smack in the middle of the existing backups on Sunrise Valley),
while another starts way to the west at Indian Ridge Drive (which
doesn’t serve anyone, unless they plan to develop Reston National).
Soapstone is a natural collector for the roads from South Reston.
Providing a direct connection will provide the smoothest possible
traffic flow. Adding another traffic light on Sunrise Valley will just
make things worse.
I know some of the residents along Soapstone don’t want a direct
connection, for fear of turning the road into an expressway. The
recent road diet on Soapstone will help keep speeds down. Also, no
matter where the Connector is built, people will use Soapstone to get
there. A direct connection will reduce the possibility of major
These are only some of the recommendations we made. If you want to see more, you can read the paper
on Reston 20/20’s blog. I hope that the County will take a serious
look at our criteria, and that we can work together to select an
alignment that provides the most possible relief for our traffic woes.