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Earlier this week the Federal Highway Administration and DDOT gave notice that the in-process National Environmental Policy Act study of CSX's Virginia Avenue Tunnel project will be switching mid-stream from an Environmental Assessment to a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement study.
Since the outcome of an EA is often the instigation of an EIS, this is probably serving mainly to speed up the process and get started on an EIS that most likely would have been needed anyway. The NEPA web site mentions that "[i]f a federal agency anticipates that an undertaking may significantly impact the environment, or if a project is environmentally controversial, a federal agency may choose to prepare an EIS without having to first prepare an EA," both of which would certainly seem to be ways this project could be described.
If you want to see how extensive an EIS can be, check out the ones completed for the 11th Street Bridges reconstruction and the planned South Capitol Street corridor improvements.
The information already gathered and feedback already garnered during the EA process will be incorporated into the EIS. CSX representatives tell me that they expect the switch to add about six months to the environmental review process, and the project's web site now has a Spring 2013 date listed for the Final EIS/record of decision. CSX has always wanted the project to be done in 2015, to coincide with the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, but that timeline is starting to look a bit dicey given that construction has been expected to take 2-3 years.
The public meeting to unveil the chosen "alternative" designs that the EIS is studying is currently being planned. You can read my write-up from the last meeting to see more about the initial group of concept designs, which ranged from expanding the tunnel to building a separate parallel tunnel to leaving the tunnel untouched to closing it and having CSX reroute all their traffic rerouting the double-stack traffic and through traffic out of the city (UPDATED to fix my mistake--there is no proposal that would close the tunnel altogether). (It probably isn't hard to guess which alternatives are preferred by the Capitol Quarter Homeowners Association, with CQ's homes on Virginia Avenue standing mere feet away from any construction.) UPDATE: It's been requested that I mention that, while the CQ HoA letter above lists a group of possible signatories, at least three of them (ANC 6B, Barracks Row Main Street, and the Committee of 100) have all already voted against co-signing the letter.
For those blissfully unaware of this project (I wish!), CSX is needing to expand the 105-year-old tunnel that runs beneath Virginia Avenue between 2nd and 12th streets, SE so that a second track can be added and double-height cars can be accommodated. With initial plans calling for the extended closure of Virginia Avenue and a temporary track in an open trench to run trains through during construction, residents on both sides of the freeway have been greatly concerned about how the work will be designed and carried out, which then spurred DDOT to request a formal environmental review (despite this being a project being carried out by a private entity on a right-of-way that they own some of).
My pile of posts over the past few years on the subject may also be enlightening, or may not.
UPDATE: This flyer just posted on the VirginiaAvenueTunnel.com web site says that the next public meeting, announcing which concepts will be looked at in the EIS, is scheduled for May 21 from 6 to 8 pm at Nationals Park.
Comments (14)
 
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Alex B. says: (5/3/12 9:25 AM)
I completely understand the reasoning of the CQ neighbors (to a degree - construction impact, sure; but operational impact of increased train traffic in a tunnel? I don't buy it), but they do realize they're favoring the $4+ billion alternative, right?


MJM says: (5/3/12 9:38 AM)
Let's not forget the tracks have been there for 100+ years and a super majority of CQ residents knew CSX was planning construction but they signed on the ......line


Shogungts says: (5/3/12 12:15 PM)
Forgive me for my ignorance of railways and if this was mentioned elsewhere, but what does DC get out of this? Do they get some type of usage fee/toll for every train that comes through? What is the incentive for DC to allow CSX to build out the tunnel? Higher tolls, just keeping them from leaving DC altogether?


Gladiator says: (5/3/12 8:36 PM)
Yes, there does not appear to be ANYTHING for DC in this deal. While DC appears to have driven a hard bargain (perhaps too hard) with Whole Foods, e.g., there was at least some clear benefit to the city from having a Whole Foods in Near SE. But while everyone would have to acknowledge that there will be many detrimental impacts to DC of a CSX tunnel project -- the question is only just how MASSIVE will be the scale of the damage to DC economically, environmentally, etc. -- the only gains discussed for the District are promises from CSX of how they will plant a few trees or something in the aftermath of the damage left in the wake of this project.

While the alternatives may involve entail significant expense to CSX, its not clear why DC should care, any more than CSX cares about the impact their proposal would have on the District. This is really a question of how much market share of the NE corridor freight CSX will get, relative to its competitors. Why should DC care if CSX competitors are advantaged because CSX is unable to avail itself of the lowest cost/highest damage alternative for moving its freight through the region?


Gladiator says: (5/3/12 8:43 PM)
Interesting that even though EYA has stated that they did not know about the CSX project until the end of 2010, MJM thinks that a "supermajority" of CQ residents knew CSX was planning construction when they bought their homes.......So they knew something that the people selling them the houses did not know (and certainly did not disclose, as they more recently began to do to potential buyers)??


JD says: (5/3/12 8:50 PM)
No, it was late summer 2009: link While some of the Virginia Avenue houses were still being sold. I know because I talked with some people who were wanting to know more about the tunnel project before buying.


JD says: (5/3/12 8:55 PM)
And, if we go to the photo archive, we can see it was February/March 2010 when the Virginia Avenue homes started getting built: link


BillP says: (5/4/12 9:10 AM)
As part of the NEPA process, CSX posed all of those as legitimate alternatives. Therefore, it is my understanding that the CQ HOA chose to support all of the non-invasive alternatives as its initial position. By moving from the EA to the EIS and as part of the NEPA process, this list of alternatives will be narrowed and modified and so the CQ HOA will obviously modify its position in accordance with the new alternatives.

While I would not presume to speak for the HOA board or all CQ homeowners, many of us feel that some type of tunnel construction is inevitable and we would simply like to mitigate these circumstances so that the worst case but very real scenario does not come to fruition - freight trains running through a completely open tunnel, only a few feet from some homes, that separates much of the near SE neighborhood from points north for three years or more.


Bob says: (5/4/12 9:36 AM)
CQ residents have told me that CSX told them at the first community meeting about the project that CSX didn't even know there were houses there. This would be a great issue for Tommy Wells to oppose. He could re-do Marion Barry's opposition to freeways running through the middle of DC in the '60s. Instead of "No White man's highways through Black man's bedrooms", Tommy could do "No corporate train tracks through gentrifriers front yards." Not as catchy, but it could work.


Alex B. says: (5/4/12 10:06 AM)
@Shogungts:

<i>What is the incentive for DC to allow CSX to build out the tunnel? Higher tolls, just keeping them from leaving DC altogether?</i>

There is no incentive. DC has little leverage. While the right of way is public, CSX (as most railroads do) have very strong legal rights of access via perpetual easements. This makes sense, as if you were running a railroad, it wouldn't be possible to operate if suddenly someone decided they wanted to remove your tracks.

Railroad rights of way vary, either from easements to outright ownership. I'm not sure exactly where this falls, but what is known is that:

a) CSX has the right to operate trains there,
b) they have the right to improve that right-of-way,
c) they are offering to do it with their own money.

Those three things means that, practically, DC has little leverage at all. They can't force CSX to go elsewhere. Perhaps they could provide an incentive to do so, but as I noted, the alternative is a $4+ billion bypass of the DC area. I think CSX's early cost estimates to re-do this tunnel were on the order of $150 million. That's quite a gap to make up.

Furthermore, this is a project of national importance. This and the rail bottlenecks in Baltimore are key elements of the entire east coast freight rail network. The required geometry of railcars, combined with the geography of the east coast and the hills of the fall line, plus the water bodies of the Chesapeake Watershed mean that there are only a few viable options for where tracks can go. Building a bypass isn't like directing trucks to just take another highway.

GGW posted on this a few years back:
link


Andrew in DC says: (5/4/12 12:55 PM)
@Alex B.
"a) CSX has the right to operate trains there,
b) they have the right to improve that right-of-way,
c) they are offering to do it with their own money. "

The greatest issue I have is with point "b". While they do have the right to improve their existing tunnel, the law which provided the B&O the right to dig the tunnel in the first place did not allow for trench work beyond the 5th year past the passage of the law. Nor were temporary tracks permitted at all, for that matter. CSX's proposed plans are in violation of each of these.

Further, CSX's "preferred" alternative requests a significant expansion of the ROW than B&O utilized. Since B&O did not use it, and was, by law, restricted from digging it back up to use it, a case could clearly be made that they forfeited the "full" ROW established in the law, and therefore CSX only inherits the ROW currently in use.

So please, by all means, CSX has the right to improve on their ROW... so long as they abide by the restrictions set out for them.


Gladiator says: (5/5/12 10:01 AM)
JD -

Yes, it was indeed the end of 2009 (not 2010) when EYA claims they were first made aware of the project. But that was still after the fact (and yes, there were a couple of stray news reports before then, but EYA itself is on the record in writing saying they only became aware of the project near the very end of 2009).

What CSX or EYA is not going to tell you is that most Virginia Ave home-owners had to put down huge deposits well before that time. And of course many other CQ homes as well. What you seem to be ignoring is that the VA Ave homeowners were required to put down very large deposits well in advance of when their homes were actually built. THey then faced a Hobson's choice of losing tens of thousands of dollars by walking away, or having a tunnel dug through their front yard.


MJM says: (5/6/12 2:34 PM)
8 May 2008 - CSX released a vague press release that something was going to happen here in DC in the near future - so I have a feeling EYA is being less than truthful about when they really knew what was happening. Its kinda like moving next to an airport and complaining about the noise or future expansion?

link


Alex B. says: (5/8/12 9:21 AM)
Andrew,

There have been decades of legal precedent concerning rail rights of way - I don't think DC would be breaking any new ground by opposing this project.

I don't know how wide their ROW is, but I doubt it's limited to the tunnel alone. Rail ROWs are often far wider than just the tracks themselves.

Those restrictions are all well and good, but again: this is a project of national importance. I don't think the concerns of neighbors give them a right to veto this project. Their concerns should be addressed, of course.

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Recent Crime Incidents Archive  
200 B/O M ST SE   THEFT /  10/12/14
200 B/O I ST SE   THEFT /  10/08/14
70 B/O I ST SE   THEFT F/AUTO /  10/08/14
800 B/O L ST SE   BURGLARY /  10/07/14
9TH ST SE AND POTOMAC AVE SE   THEFT F/AUTO /  10/03/14
100 B/O K ST SE   THEFT F/AUTO /  10/03/14
VIRGINIA AVE SE AND 8TH ST SE   THEFT F/AUTO /  09/28/14
6D   THEFT F/AUTO /  09/27/14
1100 B/O NEW JERSEY AVE SE   THEFT /  09/26/14

Active Public Space Permits Archive  
1331 2ND ST SE    Carlton Ray 
Assigned
paving; streetfixture; excavation  
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to
02/09/15
1331 4TH ST SE    Forest City Forest City 
Issued
excavation; new  
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301 TINGEY ST SE    Potbelly Sandwich Works LLC 
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new  
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to
11/27/14

Recent Issued Building Permits Archive  
1212 4TH ST SE   
10/10/14 
FORREST CITY
TL1500006 / CONSTRUCTION
CHANGE OWNER ADDRESS ON EXISTING BUILDING PERMIT TL1400136
1019 4TH ST SE   
10/14/14 
JOHN SHORT
F1500026 / CONSTRUCTION
WE WILL INSTALL AN ORNAMENTAL IRON FENCE IN THE FRONT YARD WITH A GATE. THE FENCE IS 3 FEET HIGH AND THE FENCE WILL BE BLACK IRON. FENCE IS ENTIRELY ON PUBLIC SPACE.
1212 4TH ST SE   
10/16/14 
FC 1212 LLC / PAUL R. JABLONSKI
E1500411 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
10/16/14 
FC 1212 LLC / ARK SIGN SERVICES INC.; NONE
SG1500034 / CONSTRUCTION
INSTALL ONE WALL MOUNTED ILLUMINATED SIGN.
1103 9TH ST SE   
10/10/14 
ICP PARTNERS POTOMAC 810 LLC / HARRY RIDGEWAY
P1500293 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1220 12TH ST SE   
10/10/14 
WASHINGTON GAS LIGHT CO /
P1500284 / SUPPLEMENTAL
41 L ST SE   
10/24/14 
BILL CUMMINGS POC FOR WMATA MRP REALTY/CAS RIEGLER / EOIN DURCAN POC FOR SCHNABEL ENGINEERING
SB1400457 / CONSTRUCTION
TEMPORARY GEOTECHNICAL SOIL BORINGS NUMBER OF BORINGS: 3 DEPTH OF BORINGS: 60 FT DRILLING METHOD: 3.25 INCH HOLLOW STEM AUGER HOLE DIAMETER: 5 INCHES WELL ABANDONMENT PROCEDURE: TREMIE GROUTING WITH BENTONITE GROUT
80 M ST SE   
10/10/14 
VEIC / GEORGE DELGADO
B1411521 / CONSTRUCTION
INTERIOR ALTERATION TO SUITE 310 AS REQUIRED FOR EXPANSION. WORK TO INCLUDE ELECTRICAL MECHANICAL AND PLUMBING
20 M ST SE   
10/17/14 
SOUTHEAST REALTY LLC / DAMON ELLIS; .
SG1400457 / CONSTRUCTION
INSTALLATION OF NEW NON ELECTRIC SIGN 10FT L 1FT 8IN H 3IN W
99 M ST SE   
10/07/14 
BALLPARK SQUARE 701 LLC / STEVEN ADAMCHAK ECS MID-ATLANTIC LLC
SB1400475 / CONSTRUCTION
TWO GEOTECHNICAL BORINGS TO A AN APPROXIMATE DEPTH OF 60 FT BELOW EXISTING SITE GRADES TO BE LOCATED WITHIN PRIVATE PROPERTY. TWO BORINGS WILL BE CONVERTED TO TEMPORARY MONITORING WELLS.
100 M ST SE   
10/10/14 
SQUARE 743 INC /
P1500281 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
10/07/14 
SQUARE 743 INC / ANTHONY G SAMBURG
E1500145 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
10/15/14 
NORTHWOOD INVESTERS LLC / STANLEY HUBBARD; NORTHWOOD INVESTERS LLC; STANLEY HUBBARD
E14516088 / SUPPLEMENTAL
   
10/17/14 
WASHINGTON D.C. / GARY MCVEY; WASHINGTON D.C.; GARY MCVEY
E50257566 / SUPPLEMENTAL
901 M ST SE   
10/16/14 
CARLTON RAY
AH1500035 / CONSTRUCTION
TO PERFORM TEMPORARY LANE CLOSURES
1201 M ST SE   
10/14/14 
COMCAST CABLE / MICHAEL SONESEN
AH1500018 / CONSTRUCTION
PLACING INNERDUCT IN EXISTING VERIZON MANHOLES. OCTOBER 9 2014 ? NOVEMBER 9. 2014. 7PM ? 2AM WEEKNIGHTS ? SATURDAYS
   
10/16/14 
CARLTON RAY
AH1500034 / CONSTRUCTION
TO PERFORM TEMPORARY LANE CLOSURES
1000 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
10/14/14 
CAPITOL HILL TOWER HOUSING COOPERATIVE INCF / RICHARD G. FINFROCK
P1500331 / SUPPLEMENTAL
1111 NEW JERSEY AVE SE   
10/10/14 
DONOHOE DEVELOPMENT COMPANY / HERB LAWHORN
SB1400488 / CONSTRUCTION
A HOLLOW STEM AUGER WILL INSTALL 10 TEMPORARY DEWATERING WELLS BY ADVANCING A 12 INCH OUTER DIAMETER / 8 1 / 4 INCH INNER DIAMETER BORE HOLE TO A DEPTH OF 70 FEET BGS. AT DEPTH A 4 INCH PVC FLUSH JOINT THREADED WELL ASSEMBLY WILL BE SET AND SELECT FILTER PLACED. INTO EACH WELL WILL BE INSTALLED 2 HP TURBINE SUBMERSIBLE PUMPS. EFFLUENT WILL BE DIRECTED THROUGH A COMMON MANIFOLD TO A BAFFLED SETTLIN...
   
10/16/14 
GALLERY CAPITOL RIVERFRONT / THOMAS P MCGUIRE
E1500402 / SUPPLEMENTAL
25 POTOMAC AVE SE   
10/08/14 
MRP REALTY / JASON BENTLEY
SH1400037 / CONSTRUCTION
SHEETING AND SHORING FOR NEW BUILDING
300 TINGEY ST SE   
10/06/14 
FC BOILERMAKER LLC FC BOILERMAKER LLC / FC BOILERMAKER FC BOILERMAKER LLC
B1500169 / CONSTRUCTION
INSTALLATION OF KITCHEN FIRE SUPPRESSION SYSTEM
   
10/15/14 
FC BOILERMAKER LLC / BIRKHEAD ELECTRIC INC.; ERIN ANCHOR SIGN INC
SG1500023 / CONSTRUCTION
2-COMMERCIAL SIGN INSTALLATION
301 WATER ST SE   
10/23/14 
FOREST CITY
B1408021 / CONSTRUCTION
REVISION TO B1305741 EXTERIOR SEATING LOAD FROM 188 TO 345 EXTERIOR SEATING CONSIDER AS SUMMER GARDEN ON PRIVATE PROPERTY PER GSA / DC GOV EASMENT.
AH = After Hours; B = Alteration & Repair; D = Demolition; E = Electrical; FB = Boiler; M = Mechanical; P = Plumbing and Gas; PC = Post Card; R = Raze; SG = Sign; TL = Tenant Layout; TN = Tent; RW = Retaining Wall;

Real Property Sales Archive  
CUSHING PL   09/11/14
$ 9,000,000
HALF STREET RESIDENTIAL PJV LLC
 
HALF ST   09/11/14
$ 12,500,000
HALF STREET RESIDENTIAL PJV LLC
 
N ST   09/11/14
$ 12,500,000
HALF STREET RESIDENTIAL PJV LLC
 
CUSHING PL   09/11/14
$ 9,000,000
HALF STREET RESIDENTIAL PJV LLC
 
N ST   09/11/14
$ 12,500,000
HALF STREET RESIDENTIAL PJV LLC
 
N ST   09/11/14
$ 12,500,000
HALF STREET RESIDENTIAL PJV LLC
 
HALF ST   09/11/14
$ 12,500,000
MR BP RESIDENTIAL #1A LLC
 
N ST   09/11/14
$ 12,500,000
MR BP RESIDENTIAL #1A LLC
 
0025 POTOMAC AV   08/08/14
$ 78,486,500
RIVERFRONT HOLDINGS I LLC
 


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