D.C. residents get more time to review Virginia Avenue tunnel project

Residents in Southeast Washington will have more time to review the final environmental impact statement on the Virginia Avenue tunnel project.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has extended the review period from 30 days to 60 days, and has added a second community meeting to give residents another opportunity to comment on the contentious plan to rebuild the 110-year-old tunnel.

Transportation officials said they are still working on a date for the new meeting.

If you are interested in the project, check out this video with some details about what the construction will be like and how the area nearby will be affected:

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had requested more time for the community to review the final environmental impact statement, which provides details about the project and offers a preferred construction alternative that has upset many residents in a Southeast D.C. neighborhood. The Federal Highway Administration is expected to release a final decision on the project after the public review period of the document.

CSX Transportation has proposed to turn the tunnel’s one-track configuration into two tracks and create more overhead room to allow double-stacked freight cars. The tunnel runs beneath Virginia Avenue SE, from Second to 11th streets.

The final environmental impact statement released June 13 backs a construction option that would replace the tunnel with two permanent tunnels. Trains would continue to use the current tunnel while one new tunnel is built. When the new tunnel is completed, train operations would shift there, and the old Virginia Avenue tunnel would be demolished and rebuilt. Construction could last up to three and a half years.

Residents in the Navy Yard and Capitol Hill neighborhoods have raised concerns about the project and say they hope the city will stop it. Last week the DCSafeRail, a group of residents that call the proposed tunnel expansion unsafe sent a letter to Mayor Vincent C. Gray urging him to stop any city approvals of the project until the District has completed a comprehensive rail passenger study.

“As we say in the letter, he has every legal power, and in fact a duty, to protect D.C. residents and not approve this project until the comprehensive rail study is complete and the safety threats completely mitigated,” said Melissa Lee, a DCSafeRail member.  Residents say they are worried about the plan that includes a partially open construction trench.

Also last week residents protested with signs that read “Rail Study Now, Tunnel Later” and “No Bomb Trains” before DDOT and the Federal Highway Administration’s convened to review the environmental statement.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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