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Both the Post and City Paper have reports on Thursday's meeting with Mayor Vince Gray where residents had the chance to air their grievances about the plans for the renovation and expansion of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel between 2nd and 12th streets, SE.
City Paper's article opened thusly: "Navy Yard residents still unequivocally don't want the the city to give a complex Virginia Avenue Tunnel construction project the go-ahead, and last night, hundreds of neighbors came out to let Mayor Vince Gray know just how horrible they think the project is." CP wrote that Mayor Gray "facilitated the meeting and took what he referred to as 'copious notes' throughout. He didn't say much about the project itself, only promising that the city would never sign on to a project that would endanger lives: 'There's no way we would be involved in a project like that.' "
CP also has this: "Skip Elliott, vice president of public safety, health and environment at CSX, said there would be no 'unit trains' with crude oil going through the tunnel. When the meeting attendees screamed he was lying, he clarified that while there would be no unit trains—or a group of trains that typically carry a single commodity—there would be some rail cars that would carry crude."
The Post notes that "[s]ome residents say they fear the estimated three to six years of construction will lower home values and slow growth in the neighborhood." It quotes resident Natalie Skidmore: "With an open trench, we have concerns about how people are going to get around. We are going to lose parking spots, trees and access." And the article closes with a quote from James McPhillips, one of the leaders of the DCSafeRail opposition group: "We really thought the neighborhood was up and coming. It had a beautiful, inviting and diverse community[.] This project has the possibility of destroying that."
In the wake of the meeting, ANC 6D07 commissioner David Garber told his mailing list that "I believe this issue is finally on the mayor's radar -- but we need to KEEP IT THERE," suggesting that "[w]hile a hashtag won't save the world (yet) -- please consider tweeting to the mayor and including the hashtag #MayorNoBuild."
However, the commissioner for another ANC single member district that will be affected by the project came out of the meeting with a different point of view, and has posted her concerns with the concerns of Virginia Avenue residents.
KIrsten Oldenburg, commissioner of ANC 6B04--which mainly covers Barracks Row but also includes lower 8th Street and Virginia Avenue from 7th Street to 11th Street--posted today a detailed look at the issues that the opposition groups are so vociferously arguing about, saying that "[t]his is not to say that those stridently opposed to the project don’t have a right to conduct a politicized campaign. [...] But, I don’t have to agree with the way they are using and perpetuating misinformation about what we know about the project."
OIdenburg addresses the proposed alternatives, saying that it is "Not True" that all proposed build alternatives involve running trains through open trenches, since one of the alternatives has trains running through the existing closed tunnel during construction. She notes that the draft EIS says "the maximum duration is 3.5 years for alternatives with open trench train operations and 5.5 years for the closed tunnel version," meaning that there may be a tradeoff between open-vs.-closed trench and shorter-vs.-longer duration.
She also looks at the hazardous materials and rail accidents arguments, and notes that the issue of CSX's HazMat transportation has been around since before the tunnel became a cause. After pointing out that trucks carry "unknown quantities of hazardous materials along I-695 (parallel to Virginia Avenue)," Oldenburg says that "[t]he alarms being raised on hazardous materials are diverting attention away from other more probable problems an open trench might cause."
On the issue of street closures, she looks at the disruptions as they have been outlined from the beginning of the EIS project: "But, aside from 2nd Street, all north/south crossings of Virginia Avenue will remain open during construction. Will these streets be closed occasionally and for short periods of time? Yes. Will the I-695 exit ramp at 6th Street and on ramp at 8th Street be closed for the duration? No. Will each have to be closed for a short time while decking is installed at these intersections with Virginia Avenue? Yes. Does the DEIS show special lanes to be set up to provide continuing access for residences and businesses in close proximity to the construction area? Yes."
The issue of community benefits in the wake of such a long construction project is one she feels needs more discussion, noting that 6B and others have already been advocating for green space with a pedestrian/bike patch from 3rd Street to 11th Street, along with a major redesign of Virginia Avenue Park. "But, is a linear park that will revitalize a lifeless space and serve all residents both north and south of the Freeway enough? Is it possible to equalize burdens and benefits? ... What more could/should we ask for?"
She closes with reference to the comments submitted to the DEIS, saying that the issues raised are "excellent contributions toward making the FEIS a major improvement over the DEIS," but that, "[I]n the end, the FEIS may improve our comfort level about this project but it will never satisfy everyone."
Comments (4)
 More About CSX/Virginia Ave. Tunnel Home


JD says: (1/20/14 10:39 AM)
It's also a good time for me to remind folks that I don't allow multiple comment accounts for the same user, so don't get all sneaky trying to create a sock puppet. You may also find your original account suspended too.

Andrew in DC says: (1/21/14 2:57 AM)
Oldenburg's rant is so biased and misinformed as to border on propaganda.

In speaking of the Rosedale derailment, she mentions 24 persons were evacuated. She conveniently omits that those 24 persons were evacuated from a 20 city-block RADIUS of the site. Such a radius, overlaid with any point along the VAT, would stretch past H St. NE and would require the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents and transient workers (simultaneously - so imagine rush hour times about a thousand).

In speaking of hazardous materials, she recognizes that more travels (nationally, per mile) by truck than by rail. She ignores that DC's 695 has relatively low truck traffic thanks to the BW parkway - so most of our exposure is by rail. In addition, that exposure is orders-of-magnitude greater because of the quantities hauled by a freight train vs. a single truck. When analyzing risk, analyzing the possibility of how often something goes catastrophically wrong is only half the answer - the other half is being able to assess the impact if it does.

In speaking of the timeline, she omits the all important caveat that these are estimates and ignores the fact that once CSX has its temporary track it has less than zero incentive to actually complete the project. If Baltimore's ports aren't ready, if the modeled Panama Canal traffic doesn't pan out or, frankly, if CSX just doesn't feel like completing the project, does anyone really think that CSX won't mind paying some nominal fee to DDOT vs. shelling out tens millions to finish the Big Dig? For a project they've already delayed over a decade in starting? Did we legalize recreational marijuana in DC and I wasn't looking?

Finally her framing of the DCSafeRail organization is simply name-calling. We all know Ms. Oldenburg has supported this project from the outset with no questions asked, with neither regard for permanently gifting DC land to CSX nor concern for people who aren't her constituents (or even those who are). But for her to arrogantly and simplistically cast the opposition to the project as "NIMBY-ism" ought to be beneath her. But she, too, has a right to conduct a 'politicized' campaign.

.. I'll stop there because we know how JD hates when people get on their soap box on her page... :)

InformedConsent says: (1/21/14 4:46 PM)
JD- I've valued your blog for the last several years but I must say I was surprised to see you so prominently and thoroughly feature one person's views on such a crucial issue for the neighborhood. The DC Safe Rail people have done yeoman's work in research but you didn't give them 6 or 7 paragraphs before turning toward THEIR opposition.

Do the critics Oldenburg complains are "outside of the formal study" (NEPA) process not have the right to do research, consult experts and agencies? Shall the community not organize itself to be heard and even to be answered? For years the community has quietly and patiently waited for answers. When FHWA's Michael Hicks told neighbors that the 6th street exit would be "closed for the duration" - his words and no one else's - and not he nor CSX or DDOT nor even you, for that matter - noted his grievous error for 3 days (leading us all to believe there had been a huge, unannounced shift from the DEIS), why should this community sit back and blindly trust this process or the people leading it? This isn't some fringe shamefully "whipping" people up, as Oldenburg put it; this is a community banding together to get answers and accountability, and unfortunately, Oldenburg is outside of her own community. (Yes, opposition extends well north of the freeway!)

Oldenburg's note is a calculated attempt to lull people who aren't so immediately impacted by this project into believing that nothing can go wrong, CSX and regulators will all do just what they should and in no time at all. We should all just look away for the duration. That, or, if you live in the Arthur Capper Center, just close your windows.

Gamble Rogers says: (1/22/14 10:29 PM)
C'mon, folks, let's keep this civil.

Instead of focusing on a single blog post from a single ANC commissioner -- in which a single commissioner is entitled to her opinion, just other ANC commissioners are entitled to share theirs -- please read the letter ANC6B submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and the District's Department of Transportation in September. This letter lays out ANC6B's concerns with the draft EIS in a thoughtful, serious way:


In the interest of full disclosure, my family lives along "Lower Eighth Street" and would be impacted since any tunnel construction would cut a swath through Virginia Avenue Park. Kirsten represents us on ANC6B and we've found her to be fair, serious, and judicious. She reached out to us privately several times to gauge our opinions on the draft EIS. In our view, the demolition and construction of the Eleventh Street Bridge has caused more disruption than the Virginia Avenue Tunnel likely would. And we've tried for years to clean heroin users and prostitutes from using Virginia Avenue Park as their personal playground. The bridge construction -- combined with help and pressure from the BID, our ANC and Ward reps, and a (reluctant) MPD -- helped run all but the hardiest users off. Know what would eventually make the park and Lower Eighth friendlier for pedestrians, gardeners, dog lovers, and kids? A period of construction followed by a complete renovation of Virginia Avenue and Virginia Avenue Park. That could be one tangible, positive result of serious mitigation and negotiations with city leaders and CSX.

Think about it.

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