I was invited to a little briefing today by CSX for a few bloggers, so the company could give a bit of a status update on the expansion plans for the Virginia Avenue Tunnel. They explained the background of the project (which is already available on their National Gateway web site
), and emphasized the more than two dozen community meetings they've attended; they'll be going to both ANC 6D tonight and ANC 6B on Tuesday to report on the results of a draft traffic study they commissioned to show the impacts of closing Virginia Avenue between Second and 11th streets, SE, for two to three years, and also some renderings of some improvements they are offering to undertake to the various freeway underpasses and along Virginia Avenue to help beautify the stretch once the work is completed.
I arrived armed with a lot of questions from readers
(thanks everyone!), but alas most of them had to do with specifics of the construction process, which CSX says it will not be able to address until they begin the design/build phase of the project.
They did pass along a few basics--they will be building a second/parallel track, in an open trench, to allow for train movement while they work to widen and deepen the existing track to allow for two tracks and double-height rail cars. (The tunnel originally had two tracks, but as equipment grew wider the second track was taken out of commission. So they will be adding about four feet of tunnel space on each side to bring back double tracking.) The temporary parallel track trench will be filled back in once construction is finished.
They will build temporary bridges across the open Virginia Avenue trench at the cross streets, which will necessitate each street being closed for three to five days. Construction would mostly run from 7 am to 7 pm, but trains would go through the open trench at all hours, though mostly at night. They "will work to mitigate" noise issues and construction dust and debris, and used the existing houses at Garfield Park as an example of how people already live very close to open rail trenches without an undue amount of difficulty. (The Garfield Park houses are a bit farther away from the train tracks than the new EYA houses on Virginia Avenue, of course.)
They did say that it's *possible* that some of the trench in the 300 block of Virginia Avenue could be decked over in order to preserve "access" to the new EYA houses in that block, and that they are working closely with EYA to make sure those concerns are addressed.
As for traffic impacts (which weren't discussed too much in today's group), ANC 6B commissioner Norm Metzger in a blog post on Friday
gave a few specifics in regards to the Sixth Street freeway exit ramp: "The 6th street exit ramp will remain open, but traffic must turn left on 6th street[.] Traffic trying to get to, say, M Street, SE, will have execute a several blocks U-turn, using 6th, I, and then 4th streets. There will be inevitably be problems, not least trying to anticipate the flow of 'local' traffic from the re-designed 11th street bridges. i.e. commuters may still be tempted to use. There is considerable skepticism by some (including me) of DDOT's estimate of how much commuter traffic that is supposed to use the SE/SW Freeway to get to downtown will actually stay off local streets."
There is still no timeline for when construction would start--they are continuing to "look at many possible sources" of funding, from a hoped-for federal transportation reauthorization bill that isn't as yet showing much movement to a new USDOT Tiger II grant program to other possibilities. They also need to go through an environmental impact study, which they didn't have a timeline for but which won't start before June and could take six months to a year. As has been said, they are very much wanting to get this tunnel done by 2015, and they consider this tunnel a supreme bottleneck in their entire east coast operations.
They also say that "the community" has told them that they want this project done sooner rather than later, preferring a lot of hassle for a shorter period of time compared to a medium amount of hassle for a longer period of time. And CSX also feels there's interest in seeing this project get finished before any additional development starts cropping up along the Virginia Avenue corridor.
Hopefully some of the renderings and other documents they showed today will be posted online somewhere soon. But CSX considers this to be a project still in its very early stages, and clearly believes that the amount of neighborhood outreach they are doing to be a strong indication of how they want to work with the community to lessen the impacts of the coming construction, much in the same way that the Marines are pointing to their Community Intregated Master Plan
project for the new barracks site and its many neighborhood meetings as a "new way of doing things."
UPDATE: This post at GGW
gives an overview (which I've long since stopped bothering with ;-) ) on why CSX is undertaking the project.