What is the Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project?
CSX plans to excavate Virginia Avenue from 2nd Street to 11th Streets SE in order to reconstruct and lower their existing one-track tunnel, which runs for about 3,800 feet underground. While reconstructing the tunnel, they plan to lay down a new track to run double-stacked freight trains in both directions. Construction would be done with open trenches (allowing double-stacked freight trains to continue running throughout the period of construction) or by taking city land and creating a new permanent tunnel next to and, in some cases, under existing Capitol Hill homes, senior residences, federal parks, and government buildings.
What’s the Purpose of this Project?
This project is designed to help CSX increase their competitive edge for shipments from the expansion of the Panama Canal by 2015. CSX states that Washington DC is a “bottleneck” for their traffic along the eastern corridor.*
*Virginia Avenue Tunnel is just one of nearly a dozen bottlenecks that CSX will need to contend with to run double-stacked freight. For more about the big picture, see the comments by the Committee of 100 for the Federal City about the Virginia Avenue Tunnel project at http://www.committeeof100.net/subcommittees/transportation/commuter-passenger-freight-rail/.
What’s the Problem with the VAT Project?
CSX, a multi-billion dollar corporation, has a right to increase competition but not at the expense of the health or safety of Washington DC’s children, seniors, workers, or homeowners. Since announcing their plans for the VAT project more than four years ago, CSX has neglected to provide comprehensive answers as to how they will protect public safety, security, and health issues raised by Washington DC residents and officials. They continue to present construction proposals that seriously and negatively impact Washington DC.
The tunnel is just a few blocks from Congress. The construction site is within a diverse neighborhood of residents and families that is frequented daily by government commuters, Nationals fans, and tourists. It is directly adjacent to beautiful children’s parks and the site of serious federal and city investment for the revitalization of Near Southeast, Navy Yard, Southwest, and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. If their plans are approved, double-stacked trains will be rolling through the city soon—through an open trench at street level between Capitol Hill and the Navy Yard.
When pressed about the hazardous materials they carry through the city at a 400-person community meeting with Washington DC’s Mayor on January 16, 2014, a CSX official admitted that they carry Bakken crude oil, a source of many recent rail disasters.
If this project moves forward, it must be done right, and with transparency.
Serious safety, health, and security concerns are adding up after more than four years of misleading information and a lack of transparency. Organizations, including the
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Sierra Club
- Committee of 100 on the Federal City
- Capitol Hill Restoration Society
- DC WATER (pdf file)
are raising their voices over the negative impacts of CSX’s Virginia Avenue Tunnel project. Residents are calling for at least a rerouting of trains during construction to greatly reduce the impacts of this proposed project. But as of yet CSX—a multi-billion dollar corporation—is not listening.
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