12 Nov 2009

CSX’s Train Project Moving Forward; Virginia Avenue to be Closed for 3 Years

From Matt Garner's Flickr photostream

From Matt Garner's Flickr photostream

With the National Gateway project already under way in North Carolina and Ohio, many people left a recent meeting feeling CSX has done little to plan for Capitol Hill community objections and concessions.

At ANC6B’s November meeting, CSX’s Stephen Flippin told community members and business owners that the public “can’t stop [freight rail] growth” and the demand for improved freight rail systems. Local residents said Flippin’s presentation did little more than champion the expansion of East Coast freight rail systems, and many meeting attendees wondered if CSX was concerned at all about the project’s impact on the community that surrounds the Virgina Avenue tunnel.

National Gateway and the Virginia Avenue Tunnel Expansion
As a part of the National Gateway project, CSX plans to completely remove Virginia Avenue SE  from 2nd Street SE to 11th Street SE and expose the train tunnel so that contractors can both raise and widen the existing train tunnel. The proposed tunnel expansion will allow double stacked trains to travel simultaneously north and south through the now congested corridor. If CSX can secure the government funding needed to complete the project, which is expected to take from two to three years to complete, construction will begin in 2011.

While temporary bridges over the nine-block work site will allow cars, bikes and pedestrians to travel north and south on numbered roads from 2nd Street SE to 11th Street SE, residents and businesses will be disrupted by new traffic patterns and construction noise and debris created by an exposed track system and construction site.

For the many community members and business owners at Tuesday’s meeting, concerns were about shifting traffic patterns, construction noise and property obstructions brought on by removing a nine-block stretch of road for three years.

Many community members discussed the increase in Navy Yard and commercial traffic on small, residential streets, as well as the increase in noise from train and vehicular traffic and tunnel construction. Rebecca Bisgyer, who owns DogMa, a daycare and boarding facility for dogs located at 821 Virginia Ave. SE, expressed concern that her business would greatly suffer, if not fail, by removing Virginia Avenue access to her business.

Soon-to-be owners of homes in Capitol Quarter talked about large deposits on homes that weren’t next to a major construction site when they placed deposits and picked out floor treatments and cabinet colors two years ago. “How will I access my garage, that I paid a lot of money for, when the alley access is on Virginia Ave,” asked a frustrated Capitol Quarter homeowner.

Flippin couldn’t offer answers about the true impact on those who so heavily rely on access to Virginia Ave. Questions about community concessions were largely unanswered by CSX employees armed with more power point presentation slides than answers.

Community Impact
In anticipation of the community meeting, Councilmember Tommy Wells was asked to respond to CSX’s plans to offer community concessions.

According to Wells’ Chief of Staff Charles Allen, “[our] office has talked with CSX about ways in which the impact of the project could be minimized including adding trees as a noise buffer in Garfield Park and turning train horns inward. Councilmember Wells also expects CSX to fund community outreach projects in areas impacted, “such as helping fund a renovated skate park area and green space that connects Garfield and Canal Parks.”

“Despite the District having no oversight over CSX,” says Allen, “they approached Councilmember Wells several months ago about their National Gateway project. [Councilmember Well’s] first priority was to have them reach out to community groups and leaders to make sure no one is caught off guard. At his suggestion, CSX reached out to groups that likely will be directly impacted including: ANC 6B;CFriends of Garfield Park Association; Barracks Row; The Capitol Hill Restoration Society; Cap Riverfront BID; Capitol Hill BID;  Capitol Hill Community Foundation; Navy Yard; Marine Barracks; and others.”

CSX will continue to meet with business and community groups, including:
National Capitol Planning Commission, today – CSX will meet with NCPC staff to determine what role, if any, NCPC will have in the project.
Garfield Park Association, tonight – 7 p.m, Capitol Hill Day School, 210 South Carolina Avenue, SE.
Restoration Society, date not yet confirmed
Capitol Hill Community Foundation, meeting requested
Capitol Hill Bid, meeting requested
Capitol Riverfront, meeting requested

CSX is currently working with the District Department of Transportation to perform traffic calming studies and has begun work on their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance document, which assesses the environmental impact (including noise) of the project.

CSX will bring a completed traffic calming study and environmental impact information to a future ANC6B.

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9 responses to “CSX’s Train Project Moving Forward; Virginia Avenue to be Closed for 3 Years”

  1. Tim Krepp says:

    So, let me get this straight. NCPC can potentially derail streetcars because of overhead wires that do no harm except, potentially, to someone’s sense of aesthetic beauty of Washington, DC; and yet they don’t even know if they have a role in a major expansion of freight rail transiting through the urban core that’s going to result in severe and real dislocation to residents and businesses? As well as be butt ugly.

  2. B says:

    CSX also didn’t answer the question about why they can’t do this construction work without tearing up the existing street — as is done with subway construction all the time. I also got the sense that they didn’t even know that Capitol Quarter existed. They had not even heard of the situation that the homeowner raised (that garage access to the north block of Capitol Quarter is ONLY through Virginia Avenue). They can’t possibly prohibit people from accessing their garages for three years.

  3. tk says:

    To answer the NCPC question: the bulk of CSX’s project is on private land and being done by a private company of which NCPC does not have authority over. However, the Virginia Avenue Tunnel is beneath federal land and the legislation giving CSX (or the old B&O) the ability to build that tunnel pre-dates NCPC (1870ish) and the role of NCPC in such a unique circumstance is unclear. The bigger question is, why isn’t the district of columbia requiring a building permit for a 4,000 foot long freight tunnel?

  4. gstreetmom says:

    traffic and noise and the complete removal of virginia avenue are major problems. but i want to remind residents that this kind of major construction project is likely going to be very dirty. we’ve had wasa contractors digging up g street – seemingly over and over again – since july and there were days the dust was so thick i could barely see the houses across the street. we need to demand air quality studies to make sure that additional digging and construction along the freeway isn’t going to put our already fragile air quality further in jeopardy.

  5. Fritz says:

    B, the answer is probably a few billion. Cut and cover is far less expensive than using boring machines. It’s also more reliable. I’m sure the district has some say. While CSX owns the right of way underground, their private ownership of that doesn’t give them a _right_ to disrupt traffic on Virginia without consultation of local government, of course.

    I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. I think there is a lot of NIMBYism here which is going to drive up costs of an important project with important benefits. But there are legitimate concerns. Hopefully they will fine a way to minimize impacts on the community. And the air quality worries from tunnel construction should be far lower than the expressway which does far worse damage daily.

  6. Kate says:

    When the neighbors raise the point about air quality, they aren’t referring to general pollution. In that sense, I assume the freeway has a greater impact on the environment. Rather, we are talking about dust etc. from construction. When the homes were being built on 5th, G and 4th, our yard, our cars and our windows were perpetually covered in red dust. You could see, smell and taste it in the air on days when they were doing excavation work. I didn’t have kids back then, but if I did I wouldn’t have let them in the backyard. As I understand it, that is the type of air quality concern that most of the neighbors have.

  7. B says:

    Fritz, I think you’re equating protecting our clean air and property values and noise minimization with NIMBYism, which is not an accurate comparison. None of the commentators are arguing that they stop the project altogether. Instead, we want to make sure that they do it with minimal disruption to homes and businesses along Virginia Avenue. And if that means that it increases the cost of the project, then so be it.

    There are a lot of unanswered questions from CSX right now and we’ll need to make sure to stay engaged with the city government and our elected leaders to ensure that we get answers and are just not “railroaded” by CSX doing whatever they want.

  8. I think that’s a sound decision to remove the passage at Virginia tunnel. Makes work more easier.

  9. If a tunnel project is going to rip up Virginia Ave, then really make it worthwhile via using the entire subterranean space to include the eastbound portion of the future underground SE Freeway. Taking this opportunity *now* will make the freeway’s tunnelization all the more practical.


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