Soapstone

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation plans to proceed with the construction of the Soapstone Connector, a major infrastructure project in Reston that will cut traffic and improve access to the metro. The connector will span approximately a mile from the intersection of Soapstone Drive and Sunrise Valley Drive over the Dulles Toll Road to the north and connect with Sunset Hills Road. 

The connector will also adversely impact the Association Drive Historic District, a site recently determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), according to an architectural survey recently commissioned by the county. Federal regulations require documentation of a historic site that could be affected by development if federal money is involved, as well as the site’s protection unless a “prudent and feasible” alternative is not possible, in which case adverse effects to the site must be minimized. The county’s mitigation strategy for the Soapstone Connector has not been finalized. 

Potential routes for the connector were first published in a 2013 study sponsored by the Fairfax Department of Transportation that identified five feasible construction plans. Extensive community feedback eventually identified a hybrid model that optimized bicycle access to the W&OD trail near Sunset Hills Road and selected the Soapstone and Sunrise Valley intersection for the southern terminus. It includes a two-way road with a middle turn lane that runs in both directions, bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and access to the Wiehle — Reston East metro station, an improvement projected to cut traffic on Wiehle Avenue by more than 1,000 vehicles during rush hour.

The connector was officially approved by the Board of Supervisors as part of the comprehensive plan for Reston in 2014, though the adverse impact of the connector on historic sites has since been recognized by the county. The hybrid plan for the connector runs through the Association Drive Historic District, a collection of nine educational institutions housed in modern and postmodern office buildings constructed between 1972 and 1991. 

The connector will require the demolition of the building located at 1904 Association Dr., home to the National Association of Secondary School Principals since 1973. The organization was first notified of the potential impact of the connector between 2013-2014 and currently has no plans to relocate, NASSP Chief Strategy Officer Kris Havens wrote in response to a list of questions.

Local resident Jordan Tannenbaum, a member of the Fairfax County History Commission who has been leading efforts to preserve the district, noted that the community’s need for the Soapstone Connector is apparent, but that a more proactive process might have been able to minimize destruction to the district or avoid it altogether. “This is at the eleventh hour,” Tannenbaum said, reasoning that the situation demonstrates the “urgency” of early historical surveys “given the development that is occurring in Fairfax County.”

Sonja Ingram, the Preservation Field Services manager for the nonprofit group Preservation Virginia, which has been working to raise awareness of the threat posed to the historic district and other sites in the Commonwealth, similarly remarked that a community that makes strides to document its historic resources can avoid problems that the Soapstone Connector faces. Virginia has significant modern and postmodern architecture that is often overshadowed by more popular historic sites like Jamestown, Ingram said, and a locality needs to identify these sites early on, otherwise “this is going to continue to happen.” 

The potential historic significance of the district was not identified until after the completion of the 2013 feasibility study, according to FCDOT spokesperson Robin Geiger. The county conducted an environmental survey that determined the district was not eligible for the NRHP in 2017, but the Virginia Department of Historic Resources then requested a supplemental survey that concluded the district may in fact be eligible in 2018. 

Geiger wrote that a mitigation strategy for the district is underway, though alternatives that could avoid the historic district have been ruled out. After the county concludes negotiations between its local, state, and federal partners, the parties can then sign a memorandum of agreement to begin construction. FCDOT is also still in the process of applying for additional funding, Geiger noted. Construction is slated to begin in fiscal year 2027 and is expected to cost roughly $216 million according to a recent Virginia Department of Transportation estimate, which will be financed by a mix of local, regional, and federal funds.

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