Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CSX VA Avenue Tunnel: Risks and Benefits to the Washington D.C. Capitol Riverfront Area

No one can dispute the potential usefulness of having wider roads and train tracks and the ability to move more cargo and people quicker and easier around the D.C. area. Our traffic is one of the worst in the nation. This has been a dynamic of living in D.C. since I moved here 12 years ago. For example, they have been talking about widening I-66 for years and it has never occurred because of one reason or another despite the positive economic impact and reduction in pollution that would occur.

Monday, I had the chance to sit down with Stephen Fillipin and CSX employees to discuss their plans for the tunnel. It was appreciated that CSX reached out to the community. But community outreach and working together means a lot more if both sides make concessions. Currently, CSX is not planning on slowing its freight business during the construction and expects the community to live through it despite the environmental and community impact that their construction project will clearly have on the area.

CSX plans to widen the tunnel at VA Avenue at a time when the South East side of D.C. (Capitol Riverfront) finally has the momentum it needs to become a true neighborhood and destination for thousands of baseball fans, commuters, residence, and those wanting to enjoy the outdoors. The 3-5 year plan is incredible in scope and if successful will be a wonderful new addition to the city. You just simply need to walk around the area to get a feel that the new waterfront area is truly special and a place that needs to be given life.

The hiccup in the SE Waterfront Capitol Riverfront area development? CSX needs to carve a 40 foot deep and at least 65 feet wide scar through the middle of the city cutting off main traffic routes into the area and isolating the SE Waterfront Capitol Riverfront area for many years during a time that economic investment is needed for the continued growth and success for Washington D.C. Not only will this affect residents and existing businesses, it will convince other businesses to stay away as no one can make it to the waterfront as easily. They will open up their restaurants in Fairfax where people are plenty and roads into the areas are wide. (That is exactly what the owner of Rocklands BBQ told me on why he was avoiding the Riverfront)

Future growth will be stunted with a CSX dig in the middle of the city. It could cause a hiccup in a time when hiccups could mean disaster to the economic growth of the city. It might not regain that momentum and another area will benefit in the end. CSX is gambling with the future of the area during a time where risk is taken seriously and could spell doom for many new projects that would have occurred during the 3 year time frame they plan to utilize.

This is unlike the metro in which that would clearly have direct economic impact on the city. CSX will reap the rewards of the train widening. For D.C., the CSX representatives said that passenger trains would face less delays apparently. How will that increase economic growth in a city that is looking for additional sources of revenue? Businesses and positive growth create jobs and additional revenue that directly benefit the entire city, not a train tunnel.

This is all about planning. CSX is no different than any other corporation. This is a situation where they clearly failed to plan and execute when the ball was in the strike zone. CSX could have tunneled as soon as the old Capper site was torn down when no one was in the area. They didn’t. Timing is everything.

CSX is looking for community approval stating the benefits for the nation regarding the trains. I agree, I’m sure that it would benefit the nation. The country will survive without it. Freight business will be picked up by CSX competitors. Freight rail growth will not be stunted by CSX not being able to complete a single tunnel. CSX would like community support based on National benefits and to the benefits of CSX’s quarterly profits. It seems the only concession CSX has been willing to make is building covers and decks for the tunnels at the cross sections of Virginia Avenue.

There have been no concessions on the amount of train traffic through the area during construction. They are not as concerned about a chemical spill that could occur in a construction zone that is open to a densely populated Capitol Hill area. They could do it in stages to reduce the impact on the community, but CSX is trying to reach a deadline of 2015 that they imposed on themselves based on the opening of the Panama Canal widening. Again, timing is everything and they merely failed to plan and they expect Capitol Hill residents, businesses, and the new SE Waterfront area to feel the brunt of their failures.

In summary, CSX came to the table with pretty pictures of what they think the area will look like in 2015. Surprisingly, they show the same trees and green areas that are already there. It should be applauded that they are at least reaching out, but that is all they are doing. It is clear that CSX is planning on doing it their way without many concessions on their part to work with the community. No reduction in train traffic. No reduction in hazardous material. Disregard for potential impact on existing new structures, landscaping, businesses, residents, and the entire SE Capitol Riverfront Development area.


  1. The project should be reconfigured for the greater good of burying the SE Freeway:

  2. Only two followers regarding a project on Capitol Hill?

    This is an awfully telling indication of something having a stranglehold against the development of better infrastructure polices- perhaps like what I encountered in Alexandria.


    A vote for "5A" with new separate tunnels, with the existing tunnel replacement center-line shifted closer to the new outboard tunnel, to best facilitate burying the SE Freeway.