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December 10, 2016
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(STOP ALL THE NEWS TODAY! I CAN'T TAKE IT!)
This afternoon--5 pm on Election Day--the Federal Highway Administration released its Record of Decision on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel project, which approves the chosen preferred alternative for the project, while also approving "short-term closures of I-695 ramps at 6th and 8th Streets SE" and "occupancy of a portion of the 11th Street Bridge right-of-way located on I-695."
It also brings to a close the NEPA process on the project that began a thousand years ago, give or take. (Okay, it took about three years.)
This design will replace the current tunnel with two new permanent tunnels, constructed sequentially. It is expected to take somewhere between 30 to 42 months to complete.
CSX immediately issued a press release saying that this decision will enable the company "to complete the tunnel’s design and initiate the construction permitting process" with the District Department of Transportation.
CSX's release also says that "major construction is expected to begin in the next several months, following receipt of the required permits." But somehow I am guessing that the path from this ROD to shovels in the ground isn't necessarily a smooth one, especially since the Committee of 100 has already let it be known that any decision short of an indefinite delay of the project would result in a lawsuit.
The entire ROD document is close to 300 pages long--feel free to dive right in.
I'll update as more statements, stories, and rending of garments come in.
UPDATE: Here's the Post's initial story, and a lengthy quote from it: "CSX Transportation can now move into the local permitting phase, followed by what could be about three and a half years of construction. Although the company must obtain permits from the city to move forward, there is every indication that the process will go smoothly. Even before completion of the mandated National Environmental Policy Act review, the D.C. Department of Transportation had agreed to let CSX take over the roads near the tunnel for the purpose of rebuilding it. Crews could start securing the site as early as this fall, officials said."
UPDATE II: A quote from page 3 of the ROD, about the approach to the tunnel work: "Implementation of the Selected Alternative will involve replacing the existing Virginia Avenue Tunnel with two new permanent tunnels constructed sequentially. The south side tunnel will be constructed first as train traffic will continue to use the existing tunnel. Once completed, train traffic will shift to the new south side tunnel, and the existing tunnel will be demolished. Most of the north wall of the existing tunnel will remain in place so that the structural integrity of the I-695 viaduct will not be affected. Following demolition, the north side tunnel will be constructed. At the end of construction, each new tunnel will have a single railroad track with enough vertical clearance to allow double-stack intermodal container freight trains. "
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conngs0 says: (11/5/14 12:00 PM)
(Still) seems like a sensible plan to me provided CSX makes good on their proposals for community hardship compensation, noise mitigation, and the claim that the construction will not impede north/south vehicle, pedestrian or bicycle traffic.

In addition, I think the timeline is the most important part of this project. If CSX indicates that this project can be completed (along with all of the agreed-upon improvements) in 42 months at the most, then the permitting should be contingent upon completion by that date with significant penalties to be automatically imposed as a result of delay. This tunnel is going to be expanded, so let's get it done quickly with as little disruption as possible and get back to the matter of improving the neighborhood.


Andrew in DC says: (11/5/14 1:28 PM)
"If CSX indicates that this project can be completed (along with all of the agreed-upon improvements) in 42 months at the most, then the permitting should be contingent upon completion by that date with significant penalties to be automatically imposed as a result of delay"

Well that's really the biggest hole in their whole "plan". First, it's not 42 months (at least, not for the residents); CSX's plan allows for another 18 months to resurface the road and restore things back to normal: so its 6 years, assuming no delays (and in a project this size, there are always delays). Second, CSX's timelines aren't held by anything, once they have their first tunnel down and functional, they could sit on finishing off the project for years because the cost of finishing would be much, much greater than any hypothetical penalties inflicted by DDOT.

This whole project (on paper) is based on wild over estimation of Baltimore's port traffic increase. When that doesn't happen, CSX won't have any compunction about sitting on the site to defer costs. Hope you noticed they capped their mitigation efforts for the community at 42 months though. They made sure to put a timeline on that.

In your concluding sentence, you may as well have wished for Santa to bring you a pony. It won't be done quickly. It will disrupt the community substantially and it won't improve the neighborhood.


conngs0 says: (11/5/14 4:23 PM)
Andrew, I don't disagree with anything you say here. Indeed, the devil is in the details with projects such as this one.

According to my admittedly limited understanding, the city has relatively little leverage to demand additional concessions or commitments from CSX because CSX has held the right-of-way all along. So my hope is simply that CSX is obligated to pay significant fines if they deviate from the commitments that they've made so far. And I don't see how the permits can't be contingent on such a schedule with pre-established penalties for non-compliance.

The example you give regarding the possible overestimation of cargo moving through this area is a good one. Is there a way to guarantee that CSX does not stopping construction mid-project? Probably not, but there are definitely ways to affect and perhaps alter their calculus if/when they have to make a decision like that. It's not so much that I think this solution will cure all ills so much as I think it's the best possible solution at this stage of the game.


Andrew in DC says: (11/5/14 8:25 PM)
"Is there a way to guarantee that CSX does not stopping construction mid-project?"

Actually yes - you construct the permits such that you refuse trains to run through the construction area. Once suitably incentivized, you'd be amazed at how fast they get done and how rigidly they stick to the timetable.


ben says: (11/6/14 12:37 AM)
I agree that the construction permits should be structured two that everything is compmeted as quickly as possible to minimize the impactto the community.

As far as benefits to the community go -has anyone thought about hurrying the freeway while they're digging tunnels in that area? It would be great if the community could be better connected to the rest of the city. And if a trench/deck is built like the plans for 395 near union station, the city could get some more parks or buildable space in a desireable neighborhood....


Andrew in DC says: (11/6/14 11:46 AM)
"As far as benefits to the community go -has anyone thought about burying the freeway while they're digging tunnels in that area?"

It was brought up by one of the earliest commentors on the project, but DDOT never gave it serious consideration.

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