Looking eastward toward the Virginia Avenue Tunnel
from New Jersey Avenue.
Virginia Avenue Tunnel Expansion

CSX is needing to expand the 105-year-old train tunnel that runs beneath Virginia Avenue between 2nd and 12th streets, SE, so that a second track can be added and double-height cars can be accommodated. After a number of years of trying to secure $160 million in federal funding, CSX decided in 2011 to pay for the three-year project itself. With initial discussions raising the possibility of the extended closure of Virginia Avenue and a temporary track in an open trench to run trains through during construction, and the concerns of residents and neighbors over such a plan, the District Department of Transportation requested a formal federal environmental review, which is expected to be finished in spring 2013.

Official Project Web Site | CSX Commits $160M to National Gateway (5/18/11)
JD's Virginia Avenue Tunnel News Items & Additional Links

            Tunnel Info and Photos            News Items            

Opened in 1906, the Virginia Avenue Tunnel is now a major thoroughfare for east coast rail traffic, running beneath the street and just south of the Southeast Freeway for 10 blocks. A federal Environmental Impact study is currently underway to determine exactly what approach, if any, should be taken to widening the tunnel so as to mitigate the impacts as much as possible. But it's very likely that Virginia Avenue itself will be closed for more than two years, although CSX has already indicated that the cross streets will remain open to traffic and pedestrians.

In May 2012, CSX, DDOT, and FHWA revealed the four possible designs being looked at in the Environmental Impact study, the draft version of which is expected
to be released in fall 2012. Click on the images to enlarge:
* Concept 1 - "No Build" (i.e., leave as is);
* Concept 2 (above left) - Rebuild tunnel with a temporary track running in an open trench to the south of the existing tunnel;
* Concept 5 (above right) - "Permanent Twin Tunnels," with a new tunnel built via open trench to the south of the existing tunnel, which would be rebuilt as well;
* Concept 6 (right) - "Rebuild Online," where the current tunnel would be rebuilt via open trench along the existing alignment, and trains would run in that same trench during construction.

While the scope of and potential disruptions from the project will probably impact all manner of residents and commuters both north and south of the freeway, it is the residents of the very new and very expensive townhouses in the 300 block of Virginia Avenue SE that are truly on the front lines. While final plans aren't drawn, it is possible that an open trench could run on a line through this point at 4th Street, with its southern edge about nine feet south of the lamppost, getting uncomfortably close to the house seen at left. (If your laser vision can see a white fence in the center distance between the trees, just to the right of that is the point at 2nd Street where the tunnel begins.) (8/10)

Let's take a "before" walking tour, shall we?

Looking eastward from the New Jersey Avenue overpass into the start of the tunnel at 2nd Street, with Garfield Park to the left and the now-closed horse stables to the right. The Southeast Freeway looms above. (7/19/10)

Third and Virginia, with the Capitol Quarter townhomes at right. With Virginia Avenue closed, the alley a few yards past the intersection would need some sort of temporary access built from 3rd Street where the grass to the right of the sidewalk. Third Street itself would remain open. (8/1/10)

Fourth at Virginia, with more townhouses to the right (set back farther than in the 300 block), and the 6th Street exit ramp from the freeway at left. It is possible that the exit ramp may be shifted a few feet northward (leftward). The tunnel runs on a line a bit to the left of the street footprint, under the grass embankment, to match up with the footprint of the street east of 5th. (5/20/10)

At 5th/6th Street, coming off the freeway exit ramp. As mentioned, the ramp may be moved northward a couple of feet, and all traffic would be diverted left under the freeway, where the northern half of Virginia Avenue could be changed to a two-way street to allow traffic to continue to head eastward. The Marines' fence along the 500 block of Virginia at right could need to be shifted about halfway down the hill from its current alignment, along with some of their HVAC equipment near Seventh Street. But all of this is just speculation until the design is chosen. (5/07)

Eighth and Virginia. There has been some discussion that the work would necessitate the temporary closure of the on-ramp at left to I-695 eastbound, but there is no confirmation of that one way or the other until the design is chosen. Eighth Street, as all the other cross streets, would remain open. (8/14/07)

Looking into the Virginia Avenue Park east of 9th Street, where the construction would cross the park on its way to 11th Street. (9/20/09)

The tunnel's eastern opening, at 12th Street north of M. (Hopefully there's room in the budget for a lawn mower and some landscapers.) (7/19/10)

Turning back and looking from Virginia Avenue Park at the iconic view westward along Virginia Avenue at 9th Street. (2/26/12)

Back to 5th and Virginia, now looking west, with the freeway ramp at right. The bend in Virginia Avenue at street level doesn't echo the tunnel beneath--it continues to run under the embankment, hence the possible need to move the ramp a few feet to the north/right. (5/1/10)

Third and Virginia, where the work done on the sidewalks and lawn of the revamped 225 Virginia/200 I office building will be for naught, as the construction footprint would likely run a number of feet to the south/left of the sidewalk. (Access to the building's loading dock just west of the intersection would need to be addressed as well.) And the mature trees would probably be goners. (6/10/12)

Back to where we started, looking at the tunnel embankment at 2nd Street. Streetscape improvements along the avenue post-construction are among the topics that will be hashed out during the EIS process and beyond, and gussying up this spot sure wouldn't hurt. (2/26/12)

            Tunnel Info and Photos            News Items            

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