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D.C. residents need more time to review CSX tunnel project, Norton says

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) says residents need more time to review an environmental assessment released earlier this month on the proposed reconstruction of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel in Southeast Washington.

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Norton asked for the review period to be extended from 30 days to at least 90 days. She is also requesting an additional meeting where residents can comment on the report issued by the Federal Highway Administration and the D.C. Department of Transportation.

The agencies will hold a public meeting July 1 to present the document, which lays out a preferred construction alternative for the project.  The agencies say that option balances CSX Transportation’s need to rebuild the 110-year-old tunnel and neighbors’ concerns.

The red dots show the location of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel (Federal Highway Administration)

Norton said a second meeting and more time is necessary before Federal Highway issues a Record of Decision that could give the final green light for the project to proceed.

“These residents will be substantially affected, often negatively, by any construction on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel, and they need to be afforded sufficient time to review the documents and the ability to alert federal officials to any oversights,” she said in the letter sent Tuesday.

In April, Norton sent another letter to Foxx asking the agency to expedite the release of the final environmental assessment. She said then that residents who live near the tunnel have long been waiting to get answers to questions about whether and how the controversial project will proceed.

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 Eleventh 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.

Residents who live near the tunnel welcomed Norton’s requests, saying more time is needed to address to their concerns.  Natalie Skidmore, who represents a coalition of residents fighting the project, said they hope for Norton’s “continued advocacy on this issue to make sure that the EIS and other approvals have not already been rubber-stamped from the beginning by the city.”

Neighbors in the Navy Yard and Capitol Hill areas say they worry about living next to an open trench during the construction, which could last more than three years. Residents also say they are concerned about impacts on air quality, increased noise and vibrations and access for residents whose homes are on Virginia Avenue SE. And they say the tunnel’s expansion will increase risks of rail accidents and the transportation of hazardous materials through the District.

Tuesday’s meeting will be at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, 10 I (Eye) Street SW, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

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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