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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.
UPDATE II: For the point of view from a resident with a group that is definitely not in favor of CSX's plans, read these notes from the meeting.
UPDATE III: Here is the rendering they passed out showing possible improvements CSX could undertake to Virginia Avenue and underpasses after the construction is completed.
Comments (23)
 More About CSX/Virginia Ave. Tunnel Home


Question to CSX says: (4/12/10 11:14 PM)
We know what's in it for you. What - if anything - is in it for us?

(We don't own CSX stock - so we won't get rich off this, like you will)

If you buy off enough D.C. Council members and U.S. Congressmen it won't matter, I suppose... and they are ALL: 4 Sale.

(And it will be *sold* as another bogus *stimulus project*... i.e. = submit bill to U.S. taxpayers)

MJM says: (4/13/10 12:13 AM)
Not everyone is gonna be happy with this rail project but at least this seems like it covers most everyone's issues. The metro construction didn't make everyone happy either but in 5 years or 10 years no one is gonna remember this construction project.

Mark says: (4/13/10 7:07 AM)
This is going to be bad for a) Near SE development as it will cause businesses to re-think moving to our area, which could not be happening at a worse time, and b) our property values.

CSX really, really needs to demonstrate how this will not affect our lives, how it will not make my little kids ill, how it will be completed as quickly as possible, and how it will benefit OUR community in the long run - I could not care less how it benefits CSX.

Mad As Hell says: (4/13/10 9:01 AM)
I feel sorry for the poor people (suckers?) who bought EYA townhouses - their brand new dream homes will become 3 year nightmares (unlivable and unsellable). They get NOTHING out of this *deal*.

Meanwhile, CSX (and Fenty and Wells and whoever in Congress is taking a bribe) will be laughing all the way to the bank...

Edna Wellthorpe says: (4/13/10 9:47 AM)
I'm not sure why CSX ships freight through DC anyways. Can't they go around the city?

Mad says: (4/13/10 10:36 AM)
At least with Metro construction, we could enjoy the transit system after all the inconvenience. Anyone think CSX is going to give out freight train rides?

Winners here = CSX, China, Wal-Mart and DC politicians...

China now owns the Panama Canal. They are expanding it so their supertankers can go through with their 'Made In China' junk for Wal-Mart stores on east coast.

Once they land in Norfolk, VA port, they want double-decker rail cars to deliver their schlock to the stores. If you don't like it that's just TOO BAD.

JD says: (4/13/10 10:40 AM)
Now's probably a good time to mention again that I frown on lots of changing of usernames when commenting. I'm coming very close to rebuilding the comments system for logged in users only....

JT says: (4/13/10 2:06 PM)
I would like to see CSX take some responsibility for the impact this project would have on the new EYA homeowners along Virginia Avenue. It's not enough to say that they will provide more details once construction begins. They need to take into account all of the new and potential/future stakeholders. JD thank you for following up on this story.

CS says: (4/13/10 3:30 PM)
I agree that CSX needs to start thinking about and providing details on how they will mitigate the impact of construction. Install sound barriers along the perimeter of the trench? Remove the dirt by train (so stays underground) instead of shoveling it into trucks above ground? Limit the number of late night trains and sounding of the train whistle? Etc, etc...

Rick says: (4/14/10 10:15 AM)
Looks like the drawings you and others have mentioned are not yet on line anywhere. Any chance you have copies and could post scans of them as a short term solution? I'm interested in your comment that they are willing to do some improvements to the freeway underpasses and would like to see what they're thinking.

JD says: (4/14/10 10:34 AM)
I was really hoping they'd get that stuff posted, but I guess not. Here's a scan of the page they handed out with the "after" vision for Virginia Avenue, and the renderings of what the underpasses might look like:


(Use the PDF viewer to zoom in)

Carey Dougan says: (4/14/10 12:54 PM)
It seems the construction will also affect the community garden on 9th and Virginia SE and possibly close it completely for a few years. It is very unfortunate for those that grow food for their families in the garden.

BBC says: (4/14/10 4:12 PM)
I am not sure why people are so against this. It is very good for the environment to use trains instead of big trucks since they use much less fuel per ton. Also taking those trucks off of I95 could only help the drivers there. The construction noise could not possibly be a problem for people HOPING that there will be a LOT of construction here for the next 10 or so years. Are we going to stop the eventual construction of more office/residential/retail that should hopefully come here when financing begins to flow more freely again? Are we going to try to stop EYA phase II because of construction noise. This EYA resident sure hopes to hear a lot of that type of construction noise. So, I cannot possibly yell at CSX for adding to the noise ...not with a straight face anyway.

I am sure that CSX will make a lot of money once this bottleneck is fixed. I am not sure however that we should be squeezing CSX for money/benefits. I can only assume that this is what the outcry is really about.

The local noise and traffic woes are temporary. The east coast environmental and highway traffic benefits will last for decades and decades. I am not an environmentalist (although I care a good deal about the environment) and I no longer drive to NYC or Boston or VA Beach areas. However, living with very minor and very temporary issues in order to greatly help many others for a very long time it is not such a bad thing.

BBC says: (4/14/10 4:36 PM)
...Though I must admit squeezing CSX to dig out space to put SE Freeway while they are down there does sound very seductive.

R says: (4/14/10 10:55 PM)
No one can dispute the potential usefulness of having wider roads and train tracks and the ability to move more cargo and people quicker and easier around the D.C. area. Our traffic is one of the worst in the nation. This has been a dynamic of living in D.C. since I moved here 12 years ago.

For example, they have been talking about widening I-66 for years and it has never occurred because of one reason or another despite the positive economic impact and reduction in pollution that would occur.

It was appreciated that CSX reached out to the community. But community outreach and working together means a lot more if both sides make concessions. Currently, CSX is not planning on slowing its freight business during the construction and expects the community to live through it despite the environmental and community impact that their construction project will clearly have on the area.

CSX plans to widen the tunnel at VA Avenue at a time when the South East side of D.C. finally has the momentum it needs to become a true neighborhood and destination for thousands of baseball fans, commuters, residence, and those wanting to enjoy the outdoors. The 3-5 year plan is incredible in scope and if successful will be a wonderful new addition to the city. You just simply need to walk around the area to get a feel that the new waterfront area is truly special and a place that needs to be given life.

The hiccup in the SE Waterfront area development? CSX needs to carve a 25 foot deep scar through the middle of the city cutting off main traffic routes into the area and isolating the SE Waterfront area for many years during a time that economic investment is needed sorely for the success of the entire city. Not only will this affect residents and existing businesses, it will convince other businesses to stay away as no one can make it to the waterfront as easily. They will open up their restaurants in Fairfax where people are plenty and roads into the areas are wide. Future growth will be stunted with a CSX dig in the middle of the city. It could cause a hiccup in a time when hiccups could mean disaster to the economic growth of the city.

This is unlike the metro in which that would clearly have direct economic impact on the city. CSX will reap the rewards of the train widening. For D.C., the CSX representatives said that passenger trains would face less delays apparently and stated CSX quoted research about $billions in savings. How will that increase economic growth in a city that is looking for additional sources of tax revenue? Businesses and positive growth create jobs such as that will happen on the Capitol Riverfront, not a train tunnel. Which should be the priority if you have to choose?

This is all about planning. CSX is no different than any other corporation. This is a situation where they clearly failed to plan and execute and swing away when the ball was in the strike zone. CSX could have tunneled as soon as the old Capper site was torn down when no one was in the area. They didnt. Timing is everything.

CSX is looking for community approval stating the benefits for the nation regarding the trains. I agree, Im sure that it would benefit the nation. Widening I-66 would also benefit the nation, but that also never happened. The country will survive without it. Freight business will be picked up by CSX competitors that circumvent the city not shipping dangerous chemicals through the city.

Freight rail growth will not be stunted by CSX not being able to complete a single tunnel. CSX would like community support based on National benefits and to the benefits of CSXs quarterly profits (which apparently were around $, but it seems the only concession they have been willing to make is building covers for the tunnels at the cross sections of Virginia Avenue.

There have been no concessions on the amount of train traffic through the area. They are not as concerned about a chemical spill that could occur in a construction zone that is open to a densely populated Capitol Hill area. They could do it in stages to reduce the impact on the community, but CSX is trying to reach a deadline of 2015 that they imposed on themselves based on the opening of the Panama Canal projects widening. Again, timing is everything. CSX merely failed to plan and they expect Capitol Hill residents, businesses, and the new SE Waterfront area to feel the brunt of their failures.

They have stated they will leave it better than before and they came armed with pictures of green spaces, but very few details as to how the area will be directly affected by the construction or how it will look. Also, after they fix the green spaces, who takes care of it for the next 20 years? The city? CSX?

In summary, CSX came to the table with pretty pictures of what they think the area will look like in 2015. Surprisingly, they show the same trees and green areas that are already there. They have misjudged the community. The community is interested in knowing what the effect would be during construction. CSX has missed the mark. It should be applauded that they are at least reaching out. However, it is clear that CSX is planning on doing it their way without many concessions on their part to work with the community. No reduction in train traffic. No reduction in hazardous material. Disregard for existing new structures, landscaping, and the entire SE Waterfront Development area.

Addendum: In the effort of full disclosure, how much will CSX make off the deal? Can the SE waterfront get a percentage of that revenue growth projection? CSX's quarterly earnings released yesterday showed that they are rolling in the revenue this past quarter! link

goldfish says: (4/15/10 10:14 AM)
If you lived in the neighborhood, you would see why. They will close Va Ave for two years, which carries probably as much traffic as Pennsylvania Ave. To close PA Ave would be a very big deal, but apparently because Va is ugly, the thought diverting and slowing down all those cars and trucks for two years is a minor issue, off the front page of the Post and debated only in obscure blogs.

And when it is finished, what we have is double train traffic. Those trains are loud; I can hear them every night, and the tracks are a mile away.

In short: NO benefits to the community, but all of the (unpaid) costs.

Scott says: (4/15/10 10:40 AM)
Obviously false comments like "Va Ave carries as much traffic as Pennsylvania Ave" do not do much to advance the neighborhood argument.

However, it will be disappointing if CSX is not forced to contribute to community funds in the same way other developers are extorted for "contributions" when they put up a building. We're talking about something worth tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars to CSX that will result in several years of inconvenience to residents of the neighborhood (especially those living closest to the open trench).

In no way does (a) returning things to normal, or (b) doing some petty little improvements like sidewalk beautification, represent an acceptable community contribution for the amount of money CSX plans to make off neighborhood inconvenience. We would be better off getting a contribution to the BID that could be used as needed in future years for maintenance and upkeep of improvements currently planned and to be paid for with city dollars.

Scott says: (4/15/10 10:45 AM)
For example, closing an alley on square 696 resulted in a roughly $1.1 million "contribution" to the affordable housing trust fund.


So the city gets $1.1 million for an alley that requires no inconvenience at all, and only petty improvements to sidewalk and underpasses in exchange for an enormous benefit to CSX and commensurate inconvenience to residents for muliple years?

Give me a break

MJM says: (4/15/10 2:32 PM)
How is closing a road going to drive down property value (if it can for a years  great less taxes for me  not selling anytime soon) and choke off investment (395 is already cutting off Near SE and has been doing it well for decades)? At the same time - will it drive people away from going to baseball games or getting to work around NearSE? We are writing like VA Ave is the only street that people use to get into NearSE? Or how the Capital Hill Blog stated that construction will take 3-5 when they knew it was gonna be 2-3 years. Anger and being less than truthful ('lie' is such a powerful word) go a long way to making rumors true and getting more people spun up.

This is really amazing to see these emotional/off the cuff posts. If people would actually read what CSX is planning to do and then think for a minute what the outcome is gonna be is not as bad as what people have been lead to believe so far. Its like reading the posts about the noise, smell and flies around canal park from the dog poop.

I "fear" a coal burning plant a 1/2 mile from my home spewing out 24/7 pollution more than a train whistle a couple times a night and an open trench with access across VA Ave. You knew before you moved into your places that the train had a whislte that it blew.

I've never seen such a not in my background outrage as this before. Until then relax and wait for the environmental study and the plans to be presented. Seems like CSX has come from nothing to offering a lot in no time.

Remember - the train tracks were here first well before anyone alive today living on the 'Hill' or in NearSE. Its just like moving to Dulles airport area and complaining about the airport noise or the construction of a new runway. If you lived in Dulles before the airport then you have a gripe  kinda the same thing here. I put my deposit down a few days after this was announced in May 08. Should I have paid attention to this and realized this was coming? link This project was not hidden by the evil train company.

RLee says: (4/18/10 10:07 AM)
MJM, you are misreading the community. The community isn't about stopping the project. The community wants CSX to limit the aggravation that it will cause and show some responsibility for trying to limit the impact. CSX has merely stated they will plant trees to replace the fully grown ones they kill, they will landscape some places, and they will make sure that they build some street bridges to make sure traffic can flow.

Seriously? That is it?

No guaranteed noise barriers put up? No explanation on access for how people will get in their homes? No restrictions on train noise that is now exposed vs underground? No reduction in train traffic DURING construction at night?

The issue is NOT the train. It is the construction project. No one bought a home next to a construction project. So comparing this to buying a home near an airport is not accurate and completely incorrect. We anticipate the construction happening, but the "damn the torpedoes" approach CSX has had stating their "right of way" gives them a right to cause a much noise as possible without losing a single dime in revenue is a key fact.

And yes, the Capitol Hill Blog is correct. CSX is stating during their community meetings that it is 2-3 years, when in their official paperwork submitted to Virginia it is listed as a 5 year project. link Look at page 15, it scopes out funding requirements for a five year plan. They have TOLD us 2-3 years, but in the documents where they are applying for funding they list it as a 5 year project. What gives? When asked about which one is correct, they said nothing.

BBC says: (4/19/10 6:14 AM)
The time for CXS to build is now ...before this place gets built out and before traffic gets a whole lot worse. The construction noise is not an issue when office and residential buildings are built. So, it is not a real problem if CSX does some construction. The traffic on VA avenue is not nearly as dense as it will be 5 years from now. So, diverting traffic from there to the many other street in and out of this neighborhood should not look that much different from what traffic will look like on all local main streets 5 years from now. Also, I am guessing that CSX transfers more than just chemicals through DC. I am guessing that they transfer many of the goods we comsume like food, furniture, and such. I am also a little suspicious of the bad for business argument. The people who live and work here are still going to live and work here. When financing picks up, so will construction projects.

Basically, it seems like this is coming down to squeezing CXS for money. This trainline represents interstate transportation up and down the US east coast. They are fixing a bottleneck here. How much of the profit from their unclogging of this obstruction in our neighborhood should come to us and how much should go to all the other cities up and down the line? Also, if we are simply squeezing them, do we agree on what we want? Apparently greenspace is not enough for some. Are residents here meeting separately to come up with a unified list of benefits to fund? It would be good to do this before CXS outreach meetings.

Also, for those who put a down payment on houses and have not yet moved here, don't worry about any of this. My little girls sleep through the train whistles, the stadium fireworks, and the EYA construction (during afternoon naps) just fine. As you can probably tell, I am not too worried about the CXS construction either. ...hay, it is 6:11 right now and I just heard another train whistle ...and my girls are still asleep.

MJM says: (4/19/10 9:52 AM)
RLee - you might be right (but I haven't read a single comment except maybe BBC who supports this project). Yes CSX has the right away but they will do what they have to do to appease a large majority of the community to make them happy. They are already making happy to glad "improvements." In the end, that area will be better than it is today - no doubt in my mind. Until then, people can get spun up, go to meetings, voice their frustration but really people just need the chill pill right now....and wait for the "final" plans to be developed.

But 2-3 years of "construction" is a lot different than a five year project - if it is 5 years of planning/construction then we are already two years into the five year (assuming May 08 is the start date). The Hill blog made it seem like it was five years of contruction and when someone writes that - people are gonna get bent out of shape and never listen to what CSX is gonna do. CSX is not gonna let a project like this drag out - they need that tunnel finished. The longer construction goes on the more money it is gonna cost.

If people paid attention to the CSX press release in May 08 they knew there was going to be something done at that tunnel. So in a way, they knew but most people at that time frame were intent on buying a home and flipping it rather than the impact of a train project.

Also, some people have mentioned they should divert rail traffic around DC. Not sure how many tracks there are around DC but did you see the stink the "purple line" created - could you imagine if CSX said they are gonna build a beltway type set of tracks around DC - OMG - the cost and resitance would be staggering.

Oh yeah on an unreleated side note, just think if the Marines take over Sq882 and block off L St (per their prosial - not final plan). That would really mess things up because that would mean Va Ave, K St and L St would all be blocked leaving only M St to get to 8 St during the contruction.

Until then I will sleep through the train whistles and await CSX's final plan. Maybe we can all discuss at JD HH at Justin's this week (if that happens). :)

Mark says: (4/19/10 11:18 PM)
Wanna bet BBC works for CSX's PR department!?

CSX are a bunch o' morons. VA Ave was torn down and abandoned for YEARS, that was when they should have built their project. As far as I am concerned they can wait until the next time our neighborhood goes through revitalization and all the residences are torn down again... in 50, 100 or 1,000 years...

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