This will soon become a huge headache for CSX when an expansion of the Panama Canal is complete in about 2014, increasing freight traffic on the East Coast.
CSX has to prepare for the influx, the company said, and proposes to install two rail tracks and allow overhead room for double-stacked containers. To do that, the company would have to rip out the tunnel and build a bigger one, requiring the staging of construction equipment a few dozen feet away from front doors along Virginia Avenue.
The proposal has upset dozens of residents along the street.
Laura Salmon lives near the tunnel. She is president of the Capitol Quarter Home Owners Association in a neighborhood bounded by Virginia and M Street to the north and south, and Second and Third streets to the east and west. She said she doesn’t mind the trains or the whistles. At some level, she finds them comforting.
As a girl growing up in New Jersey, Salmon said, she would sometimes have trouble falling asleep. On those nights, she said, she would hear a train whistle and find comfort knowing that someone nearby — the train operator — was awake, too.
But CSX’s proposal to expand the tunnel is ruining that quaint memory, Salmon said.
The neighborhood’s pastel-colored rowhouses stand about 100 feet south to the bulwark of the elevated Southeast Freeway. The freeway runs above Virginia Avenue and the rail tunnel runs below. It’s a tight squeeze for construction.
“We’re concerned about the vibration and the safety of having a permanent train tunnel closer to our homes,” Salmon said.
Construction could take Virginia Avenue out of service for years, residents said, although CSX has not released a specific construction timeline. Several residents say equipment would be staged within 20 feet of their front doors.
Under one proposal, CSX would run trains through an open trench, and that has more people worried.
Melissa Lee, another Virginia Avenue resident and a mother of 6-month-old twins, dreads the prospect of her children growing up next to an open trench with running freight. The project is more than a year away from starting, and her twins will be 4 or 5, maybe older, when the project ends.
“How can I let my kids live next to this and consider myself a good parent?” she asked.
She’s worried they might not be able to sleep, or will wander onto the construction site.
Many people grumbled that CSX should have redone the tunnel years ago, when fewer people lived in the area.
“We understand the community has changed dramatically over the last several years,” said Chip Dobson, CSX’s project coordinator for the tunnel.