The far-reaching effects of the VAT expansion will affect not only residents of the Navy Yard, but those who work, live, and attend school on the Hill. Read below to see how this project will affect
Public Housing Residents
Public Officials or Leaders
The VAT project will create years of significant headaches and traffic problems for commuters. Do you travel to the Navy Yard via car? The south side (west to east) lane of Virginia Avenue would be closed for 4-6 years. Therefore, the north side (east to west) lane of Virginia Avenue would become two-way in certain stretches and include many detours, which will certainly cause traffic backups that push into Capitol Hill and Navy Yard. Additionally, significant construction on South Capitol is scheduled to begin in 2015. With the river to the south, there are limited ways to access the Navy Yard neighborhood. These construction projects stand to isolate our corner of SE by creating significant vehicle and pedestrian hardships not only on our northern border (VAT project) but also on our western border (S. Capitol) and eastern border (11th St/Barney Circle) depending on project scheduling. THE CITY HAS MADE MAJOR INVESTMENTS IN THE BALLPARK AND BUSINESS COMMUNITY HERE. It makes no sense to create a beautiful destination neighborhood and then immediately choke it off with massive construction projects.
Failing Traffic Grades. The VAT has an “A” through “F” rating system for its traffic impacts. Those areas receiving “unacceptable” grades (i.e., closure or significant negative impacts) include:
- The on-ramp to the Southeast Freeway at 3rd Street (note that FHWA has never commented on whether this on-ramp would be closed, just the off-ramp at 6th Street);
- The intersection of Virginia Ave and 8th Street (i.e., the bottom of Barracks Row);
- The intersection of Virginia Ave and 5th Street (which will be completely closed during the duration of the project);
- The intersection of Virginia Ave and 6th Street;
- The intersection of M Street and 11th Street; and
- The intersection of South Capitol Street and M Street.
Other closures would include:
- Closure of 7th Street (unclear how long);
- Closures of 8th Street and 9th Street on-ramps to Southeast Freeway (unclear how long);
- Complete closure of 2nd Street for the duration of the project.
As was noted by FHWA, the 6th Street exit ramp would be closed for at least portions of the project, but for the duration of the project there would be only one lane on the 6th Street exit ramp, which would cause significant backups for several years.
Will Walkers and Wheelchairs be Safe? For pedestrians, there would be “temporary decks” over the open trench and construction to allow for north-south passage – but there is no mention about how safe these would be, other than to say there would be “fencing.” One area resident with small children began asking CSX in writing for a diagram or description of what the pedestrian decks would look like… in 2011. One would expect CSX to be able to produce such basic information – that is, until CSX admitted that it has never conducted a project like this in a densely populated residential area.
How Will I Get to my Nats Game? That’s a fair question if you drive. CSX conducted traffic analysis between February and March 2012, which did not take into consideration traffic from Nationals games (it was the off-season). CSX has stated that there will be “no impact” to Nationals games due to their construction, but it is unclear how they come to that conclusion given the nature of the closures and backups noted above (along with the fact that they’ve never analyzed traffic patterns before or after a game). CSX has put the safety of stadium-goers and sports fans at risk before, and appears unwilling to negotiate or act on behalf of their safety. In Baltimore, public officials have expressed concern for the safety of its sporting venues and demanded that CSX stop shipping through downtown during Ravens and Orioles games. CSX has so far refused to “play ball.” Is this DC’s future as well? Additionally, the South Capitol Street project is due to begin in 2015. Nats fans should be asking how they will travel efficiently by car to a game if both Virginia Avenue and South Capitol are undergoing heavy construction and highway exits are impacted. CSX’s DEIS doesn’t address cumulative impact or acknowledge these nearby construction projects. As far as mitigation is concerned, the DEIS only commits to “monitoring” traffic and “analyzing signal optimization” (i.e., traffic lights). CSX would also commit to “incentivizing construction workers to carpool or use transit.” How will this significantly alleviate these significant traffic impacts? It will not.
- Parents and Children in the Navy Yard Area, or Families Who Attend Brent ES, Tyler ES, or Capitol Hill Day School
Children’s Health Ignored. The EPA raises serious concerns about CSX’s proposal, which neglects the impact this massive project will have on local children’s health. “Although [CSX’s proposal] identifies communities and public schools located near the proposed project area, the DEIS does not clearly describe the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the project on children’s health…Children’s environmental Health does not appear to have been included in [CSX’s proposals].” That’s right—the safety and health of hundreds of children immediately located in the area and the hundreds more who attend school or play in nearby parks IS NEVER CONSIDERED, even though children are especially sensitive and more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults. The EPA has demanded that the project planners evaluate soil lead levels, consider dust reductions, study noise and vibration impacts, and evaluate pest/rodent extermination methods – specifically with respect to the adverse effects these impacts will have on local children. Has CSX done any of this? They have not. Do they plan to? They have given us no assurance that they will. At the end of the day, CSX has never conducted an expansion project like this in a dense residential urban area with the Hill’s unique sensitive security concerns and historical considerations. Their guesses as to how their work will affect daily residential life, business, resident health, and transportation are, in fact, guesses. This is not reassuring.
- a senior who lives at the Capper Senior Housing, or someone concerned about seniors
On the Front Lines of Construction. The low income residents of the Arthur Capper Senior building will be among the most deeply impacted by the VAT project. Double-stacked freight trains on two tracks could be running in an open trench only a few feet from the Senior Center, which already rattles from smaller trains running underground on a single track further away. During the Norton meeting at the Senior Center, the lead FHWA official, Michael Hicks, told seniors CSX assured him they wouldn’t feel the new trains. The air immediately filled with shouts of “We feel the trains passing NOW!” Hicks was shocked, which only goes to show how little due diligence has been conducted by FHWA and CSX on this project.
Take a Deep Breath? Seniors have expressed concern about how such close-in emissions and construction dust will affect those with emphysema or other respiratory problems. CSX has told senior residents that the best mitigation measure to avoid construction noise, toxic dust (including 8,000 sq ft of asbestos), and increased vibration is to refrain from “opening their windows” during the multi-year project. That statement alone is offensive. One senior remarked that she could smell the freshly cut grass from the lawnmowers through her closed window in the summer – how is a closed window supposed to guard against the dangers of asbestos and increased vibration? Our community – especially our senior citizens – deserve concrete and meaningful mitigation against these harmful environmental impacts. They do not deserve dismissive jokes. Very few, if any, of the seniors have been provided copies of the proposed plans, or even a map of the proposed construction.
Outreach Fails. CSX and the agencies running this process, FHWA and DDOT, have largely ignored the residents of the Senior Center. Not one copy could be found among the residents of CSX’s VAT construction plan (the DEIS). CSX put some VAT planning documentation on its website, but most residents are on the other side of the digital divide. The agencies did provide some outreach, but not enough to meet environmental justice (or even basic justice) requirements. The first meeting CSX held at the senior center facility was after the September 25th deadline for filing comments and complaints about the DEIS. Seniors were dismayed to learn that the deadline had passed them by before they were informed about it.
It is difficult for them to get to meetings elsewhere. Few of them have cars. Many are in wheelchairs or are otherwise mobility-impaired. Additionally, they are about to be surrounded by construction for the next half-decade.
Surrounded by Construction Sites. Currently, projects adjacent (i.e. within two blocks of the senior center) are about to begin construction including [see map] — The Community Center. — Square 882, which will include 195 rental units, of which 39 will be public housing. — Square 767, a 5-story building that will be a mix of market-rate condos and public housing. The Community Center is next to the Senior Center. Square 882 is next to the Community Center, at a diagonal. Square 767 boarders 3rd, I, and K. Construction on the Community Center and Square 882 will begin in February (actually, it’s started with boring and early work already), with scheduled completion in November 2015. Construction in 767 is a bit behind that, with dates TBD. The cumulative impacts are of astonishing proportions. With these projects and the VAT, the Seniors will be surrounded by major construction activity for years. When asked how this combination would affect parking and traffic flow, DCHA didn’t know. CSX has not addressed the cumulative impact of or acknowledge these nearby construction projects. Seniors have a right to know how these multiple construction projects might create problems for emergency vehicle access and with vibrations, noise, air quality, etc. These DCHA projects are things the community wants and has been waiting for. The problems they cause will be vastly outweighed by their benefits to the community. And we don’t want these projects delayed because of CSX. But who would subject the seniors to this multi-front, multi-year assault? How are DCHA, DDOT, CSX, and other city agencies prepared to mitigate the suffering of the seniors? This issue has not been addressed or even acknowledged.
- A public or subsidized housing resident (including Capitol Quarter workforce housing)
Even the EPA is concerned about this — and the EPA doesn’t know the full extent of the problem. Beyond the clustered community at the Senior Center, there is an entire population of subsidized DCHA housing residents who are dispersed throughout the Navy Yard’s mixed-income community whose needs have not been addressed in any depth by CSX. These residents can’t simply move elsewhere if the construction renders their homes unlivable. There are long waitlists for DCHA affordable rental housing. And there are other legal, and practical, restrictions for all forms of DCHA housing, including subsidized workforce housing.
Much of this housing was created as part of a federal HOPE VI grant to the city. Residents of the prior public housing, the Capper Carrollsburg Community, were involuntarily dislocated from their homes to make way for the HOPE VI development, as described in the documentary “Chocolate City.” Many of the promises to those residents were broken. Only a fraction of them returned to the new DCHA housing, and that return was many years later than planned. Now they are finally here, they are faced with up to six years under the VAT project, and all of the long-term problems that the new permanent tunnel(s) would create. Is this the “hope” they were promised?
- Public Safety
Is CSX’s proposed project dangerous? Yes. We don’t know – and CSX won’t disclose – what kind of hazardous materials CSX is transporting through the city. Some cargo like radioactive material and certain deadly toxic inhalants are prohibited, but everything else is “voluntary.” Without knowing more, we have to assume that CSX is running hazardous material through the Virginia Avenue Tunnel on a daily basis. (And CSX has recently confirmed that it transports combustible crude oil through the city regularly.) CSX’s proposed plans for expanding the tunnel magnifies the risk of a derailment like what happened right before Thanksgiving in Ohio (http://nbcnews.to/IIczvC). The proposed construction, which is expected to last approximately 4-6 years, CSX has committed to running larger and more frequent trains at increased speeds through an uncovered and open trench literally within feet of an active construction site. This means that debris from the highway, the adjacent construction site, or someone trying to do harm can land on the tracks and derail a train.
As we saw with the Metro-North accident in December 2013, even a commuter train derailment can cause loss of life. But if a CSX freight train carrying tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil and/or other hazardous materials derails, then the resulting explosion and fire could be catastrophic. The U.S. Capitol Building would be less than a mile away from ground zero. Not to mention there would be significant loss of life and property damage to homes, apartments, Barrack’s Row, and Garfield Park. Recent media coverage (http://bit.ly/SafeRailNow) has shown that CSX has the worst safety record (by far) in the United States, so the risk of derailment is not an abstract concept – 212 CSX accidents were reported in 2012 alone. In fact, a CSX train caught fire in the tunnel only a couple weeks ago (http://wapo.st/1cDzz7F). Thankfully, hazardous cargo was not ignited this time (although, toxic rail ties did catch fire).
In a recent public meeting, CSX was asked this very question about safety, and the CSX representative could only commit to complying with federal safety laws. In other words, they would meet the MINIMUM safety requirements and that is it. Not comforting. CSX’s proposed plans are too risky. They need to look into safer and more reasonable options before anything gets approved.
Other relevant news clips are below and here: Baltimore Sun 8/21/10: “But over the years — and even in recent weeks — CSX has compiled a lengthy record of jumping the tracks in Maryland. U.S. Sen.Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat, expressed concern over the CSX accident, the railroad’s third in Maryland this month. A single car derailed Aug. 8 in Woodstock in western Howard County, causing the evacuation of about 40 nearby residents. The same day a CSX train and a vehicle collided at a crossing in Rosedale, injuring the vehicle’s driver. “I urge the NTSB to conduct its investigation thoroughly and quickly to ensure the safety of Maryland communities and provide answers for the families grieving today,” Mikulski said “CSX must get to the bottom of what went wrong and outline what steps they are taking to ensure it will never happen again.” Track conditions are the leading cause of derailments, followed by human error, said Warren Flatau, a Federal Railroad Administration spokesman. Other causes include equipment failure, load-shifting and weather. CSX ranked third last year among the industry’s Big Four — a group that also includes Norfolk Southern, BNSF and Union Pacific — in reportable safety incidents, Flatau said. FRA records list 20 CSX derailments in Maryland since the beginning of 2010 [in only 8 months]— many of them minor events in railyards, including one March 30 in a Howard County yard.” http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-08-21/news/bs-md-csx-safety-20120821_1_howard-street-tunnel-derailments-csx
- Rail Commuters
Is VAT expansion a solution, or does it add to the problem? Virginia Rail Express has raised concerns that the project planners have ignored the impact increased freight will have on its commuter rail operations. The proposed expansion of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel would permit CSX to run at least twice as many freight trains through Washington, DC which places a severe burden on the area’s commuter freight operations. The Committee of 100 on the Federal City, which has studied the issue of rail capacity in the DC metro area extensively, has concluded: “If the number CSX trains increases substantially, reconstruction of the tunnel may even force a decrease in commuter and passenger rail service.” There is a whole segment of our rail infrastructure that is obsolete and problematic for a variety of reasons. CSX wants to fix the one piece that affects only their business, and to do so in a way that (a) is likely to commit us to decades of continued reliance on a route that should be retired and (b) not only fails to solve but actually exacerbates a number of existing problems (safety/security, disruption to urban fabric and parklands, air quality, constraints of passenger/commuter rail, navigability of the Anacostia).
- a business owner in the Capitol Riverfront or Barracks Row area
How will this affect your bottom line? The Capitol Hill Restoration Society recognizes that traffic reroutes [see commuter issues] and intensive construction may well have adverse effects on the Barracks Row businesses. But are business owners aware of the project? How well informed are they? What kind of outreach has CSX or the city made to CHAMPS, the Capitol Riverfront BID, and individual business owners to make them aware of this project and potential negative impacts their companies might suffer as a result? How do they plan to mitigate these impacts?
- a DC political figure or community leader
Lots of Pain, and No Gain. This project concerns you because this project BRINGS YOU AND YOUR CONSTITUENTS NO BENEFIT. As a resident you will suffer the risks and inconveniences of tunnel construction and surrender public lands in exchange for nothing but additional risks, inconveniences, and negative community impacts.
Neither the Agencies nor CSX have produced a map, survey, plat, or other means to demonstrate how much federal or DC land will be transferred to CSX to conduct the proposed project. What we do know is that the currently proposed build alternatives shift the existing tunnel footprint between 7 and 25 feet south from occupied space. The Agencies must be transparent about the interpretations, negotiations, and decisions associated with the right of way process. The DEIS does not provide any factual information on what the current right of way is, who will make a determination regarding expansion of a right of way, and what the city or DC residents may receive in return for any additional grant of right of way. FHWA and DDOT must provide transparency on these matters and to share the process by which the public or other Agencies may participate in or appeal a final decision. So far they have not.