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On Saturday, Nov. 23, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is having a meeting with residents to discuss the CSX/Virginia Avenue Tunnel project. It's at 2 pm at the Capper Seniors building at 900 5th St., SE.
With the Environmental Impact Statement for the project expected to be released before too much longer (you can see the draft EIS here), residents are seeing this as perhaps a last opportunity to voice their concerns and push back against what one resident called Norton's willingness "to simply regurgitate CSX talking points" in a recent press release.
A train fire last week that began in the tunnel also has the residents who have been fighting the project intensifying their efforts to get answers they are seeking on health and safety concerns.
To that end, a new web site has also been launched, DCSafeRail.org, to lay out residents' arguments.
UPDATE, 11/26: There was a considerable kerfuffle after Saturday's meeting, at which Federal Highway Administration rep Michael Hicks said, "They're going to have to close the interstate, two exit points on the Interstate, 6th and 8th St., I believe, for the duration of the project...So that's why I'm involved." Putting aside that the only 8th Street SE exit is on the north side of the freeway and so would be nearly impossible to be impacted by the tunnel construction, this statement went against the Draft Environmental Impact Statement as well as many comments by CSX and DDOT during the process that the 6th Street exit ramp would not be closed.
As I expected, there is now a statement that's been sent out by CSX, from Hicks:
"My apologies to the community, turns out I made a misstatement regarding the duration of closures of the 6th St exit and 8th Street on ramp to I-695 and I understand that statement, unfortunately, has gotten widespread exposure. Hopefully the clarification to follow is equally widespread; no highway ramps would be closed for the duration of construction. As outlined in the DEIS, erecting the temporary decks at 5th/6th and 8th Streets SE may require the short term closure (approximately a week or less) of I-695 ramps at these locations. CSX would work with DDOT, community leaders and local first responders to ensure access for community members in the event of emergencies!
"During the very preliminary stages of project development it was thought the ramps might possibly have to be closed; however, alternatives were developed that no longer required extended closures of those ramps. Again, I apologize for any concern or alarm my misstatement may have caused. Thank you."
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JMP says: (11/23/13 10:56 AM)
Thanks for posting JDLand and so glad to have you back. This issue is critical to the future development and most importantly the safety of our neighborhood! Please continue to stay on top of it!


DCPSParent says: (11/26/13 2:45 PM)
So Hicks--the Federal Highway's lead on this project-- didn't have straight the facts about how this would impact the **highway** for pete's sake? That shouldn't restore the public's confidence, should it? It is severely problematic when the leaders overseeing and approving this project are not able to provide clarity about important factors of the construction and its impact on the public.

And although the DEIS (draft environmental impact statement) which CSX submitted states that exit 6 will only be closed for one week, city planners and architects who have reviewed the build plans have raised questions about the feasibility of this short time frame considering the massive scope of the project. The DEIS is riddled with errors and conflicting statements as has been documented in many of the public comments on the VAT site and as was pointed out at this meeting. At any rate, is certainly not irresponsible for the public to consider the possible effects if CSX estimates for closures are in error, as this is entirely within the realm of possibility.

And if you watch the video--the CSX authors of the DEIS don't flinch when Hicks misspeaks, or try to correct him. This retraction from Hicks/CSX only comes out after a subsequent public outcry. I'm suspicious.



JD says: (11/26/13 3:50 PM)
What did Hicks/CSX/DDOT say when the audience called him on this new piece of information during the meeting?


DCPSParent says: (11/27/13 9:45 AM)
As I mentioned, you can see on the video clip that CSX officials (the six or so men in suits seated in the corner when the video pans over to the left) register no response and offer no correction. I was present at the meeting and no federal official or CSX representative at any point for the next 2 hours (Mr. Hicks made this statement at the very opening of the meeting) offered a correction to the exit closure issue. I should point out that Delegate Norton ran the meeting in such a way that all parties were given multiple opportunities to answer questions.

His direct quote was: "They're going to have to close the interstate, two exit points on the Interstate, 6th and 8th St., I believe, for the duration of the project...So that's why I'm involved." Many people have asked why the FHWA is the lead agency for this project and not the Federal Railway Administration is not. If Mr. Hicks' understanding is that the exit closures merited his agency's involvement, and it turns out that the highway will not be affected in this manner, should their oversight be revisited? Not an unfair question.


DCPSParent says: (11/27/13 9:49 AM)
Sorry, link to video clip may be found here: link


JD says: (11/27/13 9:53 AM)
Right, I was just asking what the reaction was in the room of the 100-plus people when he said this. You said no official offered a correction--how many in the audience pressed Hicks on the statement during the next two hours, and how did officials react to those questions?


E. Masquinongy says: (11/28/13 10:43 PM)
We must consider the possibility of Astroturf on the several blogs on which this issue is being discussed.

For example, I have heard CSX has been responsible for funding various community events, to improve their standing in the neighborhood, to mitigate the backlash to this project. CSX is a private entity; they are not bound by the rules for government agencies seeking approval of large public projects.


Andrew in DC says: (12/2/13 8:03 PM)
"I was just asking what the reaction was in the room of the 100-plus people when he said this"

Our reaction was stunned silence. We pretty much left it as it was. We were busy pursuing other issues, such as the CSX safety rep dancing around the fact that they don't do "unit" trains of petroleum products in unpressurized cars (e.g. trains which have exclusively those kinds of products - such as the train which blew up in Lac-Megantic decimating 30 city blocks in every direction) ... but only after some dogging from the City Paper (I think?) did he concede that their trains were not restricted from having _as many_ of these kinds of cars - so long as they weren't the _only_ kinds on that particular train.

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CXS TRANSPORTATION INC / ;
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