Since January, 2003
            
 Sliding from Before to After

On Wednesday the US Department of Transportation announced its TIGER grant awardees, and while the massive National Gateway rail project did receive $98 million, it was for a stretch of rail in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and not for the projects planned in DC, including the expansion of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel, which would result in a multiyear closure of the street in order to add a second track and lower the track bed to allow for double-height cars.
ANC 6B03 commissioner Norm Metzger received a statement from CSX that says: "The Virginia Avenue tunnel piece is a 2-3 year project that we would like to have finished in time for the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2015. Our original intent was to pursue funding through the transportation authorization bill, and this will continue as will seeking other funding opportunities." (I'm trying to find out more about this authorization bill they're talking about, using my best source for what's going on in Congress, but don't have anything just yet, other than the fact that there isn't an actual authorization bill currently written or under debate.)
In other words, as of now there's still no indication of when this project will start, which may or may not be good news for the people who have put down deposits for the row of Capitol Quarter townhomes along Virginia between Third and Fourth, since the lack of impending construction may be offset by the uncertainly of when the hammer might finally drop. For more on the project, read my various past entries, and also the documents that CSX submitted last year to the National Capital Regional Transportation Planning Board for some additional details.
Comments (13)
   
 
 More About CSX/Virginia Ave. Tunnel

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Rob Lee says: (2/18/10 2:10 PM)
Their existing plan wouldn't work anyway with residents living on VA Avenue... -> Guaranteed access for Emergency vehicles to those houses has to occur.

At a minimum they would have to tunnel that portion so Fire and EMT vehicles could reach the town homes with their only access on Virginia Avenue.

Not against the plan, they just don't seem to be thinking it through. No environmental study in the middle of a populated area? Really?

--Rob


JD says: (2/18/10 2:23 PM)
I think they weren't really thinking about the possibility of there being new townhouses on that block of Virginia Avenue when they hatched this project. People who were at the public meetings in November said that the CSX rep seemed surprised when people brought up the new housing being built.

I imagine that a delay in tunnel work--long enough to get the townhouses built--will give the owners a whole lot more leverage than they would have had if the tunnel project were getting started next year.


B in DC says: (2/18/10 2:31 PM)
JD, you are correct. I went to the CSX presentation at the ANC 6B meeting a few months ago. When a Capitol Quarter resident asked how residents in the northern most block of Phase One would access their houses (where the only access is available from Virgina Ave.), the CSX rep seemed completely surprised. He asked for the streets that surrounded the block in question and took notes about what the Capitol Quarter resident was saying.

In sum, they had no clue that the Capitol Quarter project was even in development and did not even think about how to give access to residents there. I hope the project can be modified (or scrapped) so as not to gut property values and quality of life.


MJM says: (2/18/10 2:55 PM)
Folks, this tunnel is not gonna destroy the Riverfront or CH. When they built the metro they dug-up streets and there were issues but in the end everyone survived, emergency vehicls got to where they were going and even Ben's Chili Bowl survived the metro construction. I'm sure with hearings and positive ideas things will be worked out to everyone's surprise!!

This is a local issue with national implications. The tunnel needs to be done otherwise you will be complaining about the amount of increased traffic on the local interstates (and for others - increased emissions) from all the semi-trucks not removed from the roads because the train tunnel wasn't completed.

Nobody wants things impacting their lives or schedule but sometimes things like this are needed and with just about everything else there will be a solution that makes most everyone happy.


J says: (2/18/10 4:07 PM)
Just FYI--the transportation reauthorization refers to a large bill Congress passes every five years or so, and among other things, generally includes a lot of money for transportation and transit projects. In the past, the bill has had names like SAFETEA-LU. The bill is also notorious for passing years late, which will again be the case with the upcoming bill. It's likely to pass some time in 2011, but there are serious issues that need to be worked out with the primary funding mechanism, the Highway Trust Fund, which faces major shortfalls.


the_matt says: (2/18/10 4:21 PM)
The surface bill they're talking about is the 5-year surface authorization. The last one (SAFETEA-LU) expired last year, meaning that they have to pass an extension every year to allow continued spending on surface transportation; mostly this is Highway Trust Fund spending and Transit Trust Fund spending - i.e. this is where the federal gas tax goes. The bill will likely do other things as well (for instance, the National Infrastructure Investment Bank that Obama has discussed may be created through this vehicle). I haven't followed it as closely as I likely should, given my job, but I do know that you can find the House T&I committee "blueprint" (proposal) on their website: link

As best I know, the Oberstar/Mica proposal is the most-developed one out there, but its a pretty thorny issue with billions of dollars at stake, a broken financing system (the HTF had to be bailed out with General Fund dollars both in 2009 and 2008), and a lot of ambitious new plans for the new one (including funding for intercity passenger and high speed rail).

So, that's probably more than you wanted to know about the surface authoriziation they're talking about, but for what its worth, my take on CSX and Virgina Ave: of course its gonna be a pain for people who live or own businesses that would be directly impacted. I don't know that you can build major infrastructure projects without inconveniencing someone - but NIMBYism shouldn't get in the way of progress. We're talking about 100+ year-old rail infrastructure on the east coast. Unless you want more trucks on 95, we've got to be able to get doublestacks through the tunnels we have here, that were built loooooong before the idea of containerized cargo - and the double-stack train - were ever conceived. Personally, my walk to work (which takes me across Virginia Ave) will likely be a bigger pain than it already is with the gauntlet I run trying to cross the street at 3rd St SE. But an extra ten minutes for me to get to work is worth it. A few individuals not being able to sell their condos for 2 to 3 years is worth it. We're not talking about a permanent impairment to the properties, after all. Hopefully CSX will do this in a manner entailing as little disruption to the neighborhood as possible, but in the end, the project is vitally necessary to the survival of rail freight on the East Coast. And the rail freight transportation system is vital to the survival of the American economy, not to mention its environmental benefits.

Sorry for the rant. And really hope I didn't jack up the html up there with the link....


the_matt says: (2/18/10 5:12 PM)
Oh; and regarding environmental impact, they said they were planning to apply for NEPA approval in Fall of 2009. Don't know if the application has been done or not, but its a necessary regulatory hurdle. They won't be able to do it without the clearance.


Mike McEleney says: (2/18/10 9:48 PM)
I agree with JD that CSX had done no community outreach or research prior to the groundswell of opposition that emerged this fall. CSX's own representatives were unaware of the local neighborhood and had no plans to file an environmental impact statement. CSX's representative admitted at a community meeting that they planned to conduct the project under what is known as a Categorical Exclusion (CATX) to NEPA. They did not even include DC in their National Gateway Literature until it was pointed out in an ANC meeting.

Aging infrastructure is by no means unique, and it does not automatically justify, in DC or anywhere else, forcing residents to suffer severe local impacts to further a project that does not directly benefit the community. It certainly does not justify having those same residents subsidize a major corporation that could fund this project on its own if the alleged benefits were anywhere close to real.


Resident says: (2/19/10 2:32 PM)
JD, I read your blog quite often and I'm glad that you provide information on this issue. As a future Cap Quarter Resident, my home will be on Virginia Avenue. The few things that are of concern to me regarding the potential construction are things you'd expect from a resident - impact to the environment, traffic concerns, parking access, noise, debris, length and schedule of the project, accountability, etc. These issues are ones that should not be taken lightly and I'm glad that there are voices within the community (and online) to bring more attention to this debate. Please keep it up.


G St says: (2/19/10 2:36 PM)
4 Sale = New Townhome - Train lover's dream! (-:


the_matt says: (2/22/10 11:36 AM)
FHWA's definition of Categorical Exclusion is provided here: link - overall, still not something to get hugely upset about, I think.

Yes, the project will be loud. The project will take a couple of years to complete. There will be dust and debris for the immediate neighborhood. But the issue is one of significant concern to both the region and the nation.

Regionally, if we can't get double stacks through our century-old rail infrastructure, we put it on the highways. More emissions, more congestion on I-95. Nationally, we get higher prices because all of that stuff that could've been shipped from an east coast port in a post-Panama-Canal world will continue to land in LA, board a train there, and get transferred to a truck in Ohio before making it all the way to the Target in Columbia Heights. Transportation costs are a significant part of the mark-up you pay at the store.

My position remains (until I see analysis that shows otherwise) that there are larger issues at stake that will produce benefits far greater for DC as a whole than the costs concentrated among a relatively small group of stakeholders. But therein lies the collective action problem, per Olson; benefits are spread too thinly to provide incentive for effective organization of the folks that will benefit, versus the ease of organization for a group of folks who will receive the brunt of the cost.


jg says: (2/23/10 9:10 AM)
the_Matt, I don't think anyone here denies the potential benefits of this project. The problem here is that, regardless of whether or not CSX ultimately proceeds, and regardless of what the benefits are, CSX has clearly not done its homework on how to minimize the impact of the project on the neighborhood. The fact that CSX had no idea that their plan would prohibit homeowners on the 300 block of Virginia Avenue from accessing their property (or that there would even be homes there) demonstrates that unequivocally.

I don't necessarily oppose this project, even though my family will be moving into that block this summer. I had heard about the project before we put down our deposit. That said, CSX must do more to mitigate the project's impact on the entire neighborhood (not just my block) and improve their method for involving the community in the mitigation planning process. I don't expect the work to be invisible, but I expect maximum, reasonable effort to spare the community the most harmful effects of the work that will likely take place.


the_matt says: (2/25/10 9:35 AM)
jg: I would certainly agree that CSX should be a good neighbor, and hasn't necessarily done that with respect to this particular project. I would absolutely advocate that the company take prudent steps to minimize negative affects on the surrounding community, in any case.

On the other hand, the position taken by CHARTX ( link is just a little too extreme for my taste. Infrastructure projects are often a pain for the folks who live in the immediate neighborhood; but in this particular case no one is having their home demolished or "redlined" into a less-desirable part of the city, as happened in a lot of the "urban renewal" highway projects of the 50s and 60s. Its all relative...

If the larger National Gateway program really is as vital to the continued survival of the railroad as I suspect it might be, taking to hard a line against them is, I think, likely to backfire. Better to work with them to address issues of concern than to have the company decide the neighborhood won't budge, so the only option is to bulldoze them (metaphorically, of course).

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