I will be the first to admit that I did not do a very good job tracking the progress of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel
construction. Even putting aside the fact that most of it happened underground, it just came at a rotten time in my life and was too large a footprint for me to ever really feel like I could do it justice. So of course instead of trying my best anyway, I just kind of gave up. Oops.
But, while the expansion of the original tunnel and the construction of the second track tunnel are both now complete, and now it is just streetscape work standing between impatient drivers* and the reopening of the avenue east of 4th, there is a part of the project where I can think I can provide a service, and that is looking at the actual changes in Virginia Avenue itself since digging started in spring 2015.
Yes, we're going to take a tour of the road. You might be surprised at how much it has changed.
Let's start at 2nd and Virginia, which in the pre-project days was a weird intersection between 2nd and the functional Virginia Avenue to the east along with the incomplete H Street and closed-off Virginia Avenue to the east. It never saw much traffic but was large and oddly configured for a spot with so little use. These are two before-and-after sets, first looking north-northwestward, and then eastward (sorry for the crappy current shots):
Remembering that you can click to enlarge these photos and then page through them, you'll see how this 2nd-H-Virginia intersection was extremely wide and mainly focused on the flow of traffic along Virginia Avenue, which became superfluous when in the early 2000s it was decided to close Virginia from this spot out to South Capitol (because of security concerns with its location right by the Capitol Power Plant). In the new version, there are big sidewalk bulb-outs, shinking the amount of asphalt and making it easier for pedestrians to cross the street, which comes in handy for the hordes marching toward Whole Foods in the next block.
As we continue east on Virginia, there isn't much of a change in the 300 block's footprint, other than the creation of bulb-outs to narrow the sidewalk width while still allowing mid-block parking on both sides.
But there's definitely a few changes where Virginia heads east across 4th Street:
The street is now closer to the freeway, and on a straight line toward the intersection with 5th Street. The wide bend from 4th Street is gone, meaning that hopefully cars turning left from 4th onto Virginia will now have to slow down to navigate the intersection. There's also now parking on the south side of the street, which mainly serves to add back in the few parking spaces that disappeared now that I Street no longer bends into Virginia east of 4th. I don't have an "after" photo, but you can see what it used to do here
, and also see how Virginia had to bend northward to get to the intersection with 5th.
The intersection at 5th (which becomes 6th as you go north under the freeway) has always been ugly, so ugly that I never came up with a good standard way of photographing it, which means my before pictures aren't always helpful. But in this comparison shot looking west, you can see how Virginia is now a straight shot coming from 4th to 5th. You can also see that the street and ramp from 695 are much closer, and the grading has been changed as well,
Turning around and looking eastward on Virginia at 5th, you can see how much the traffic flow has been altered:
Before, the freeway traffic used to continue on Virginia via the lanes to the left, and the traffic from Virginia and those turning onto Virginia from 5th used the merging lanes to the right. And there was a lovely median separating them, making it a long trek for pedestrians from the north side of Virginia to the south side. Now, as you can mostly see (sorry about the shadows), it's more like a regular intersection, except that from what I can tell the drivers in the middle lanes from Virginia and the ramp will have a wide middle lane to handle their merging as they go east. Will have to see how the ramp lanes are striped--will the left ramp lane be left-turn only? Or left/straight, and the right ramp lane straight, as it used to be? We Shall See.
Now we get to 7th Street, which doesn't really look that different except that the diagonal stub of K Street just to the south is now gone, again making it easier for pedestrians on the east side of 7th to get north of Virginia.
Now we have reached 8th Street, the end of my little tour. First turning back to look westward, you'll see that the lanes no longer split, once again making it easier for pedestrians to get across:
When you look eastward across 8th, you'll see a big change (the departure of the on-ramp to 695), but that happened in 2013. As I'm sure you remember.
I imagine the blocks east of 4th Street will open Any Minute Now, since they are all now striped and lamped and lighted and curbed. Then we can find out how it all works when actual pedestrians, drivers, bicyclists, scooterists, and the like get a hold of it.
It was a long 3 1/2 years to get to this point, but these photos indicate--even more than I realized--that CSX did not just tear Virginia Avenue up, dig a tunnel, and plop the old street right back down on top of the new tunnel.
* I'll do a tour of the new bike side path another time.