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.

Great ANC6B Meeting Last Night

Thank you to everyone who attended last night's meeting of ANC6B. We had a tremendous turnout of concerned neighbors willing to vote with their feet and speak about the impact this project could have on their lives.

Thanks are also due to CSX, who graciously invited the community to a standalone meeting after the presentation to share new traffic proposals and aerial views of the project. While there are still far more problems and questions than solutions and answers, it was a big step forward by their outreach team.

A special thanks is due to Rob Lee, who attended a CSX pre-brief and has been willing to share his thoughts and notes with the community. Please continue to share news about this project with your friends and watch CHARTX for additional updates.

Easier to read notes from CSX VA Avenue Tunnel Meeting 4/12/2010

CSX VA Avenue Tunnel Meeting 4/12/2010

Major Points:

  • CSX requires no approvals from the City to begin any construction.

    • They are “just like a public utility” and can dig where they have the “right of way”
    • 100 Foot Right of way down VA Avenue since 1901
    • They only need funding and approval of the NEPA Study
    • CSX representatives have not walked VA Avenue around the areas where the greatest community impact will occur
      • They said that 100 feet was to the side walk. Between 3rd and 4th street it is 50 feet to the sidewalk with the emergency fire hydrants
        • Min Distance = 65 Feet
        • They need 100 Feet
          • Structural integrity of the existing building foundation?
          • 45 degree down angle from base of each building
      • When shown on Google maps the distance they stated “Perhaps we should walk the property” clearly showing that they have yet to do this

      • CSX has no details of the actual impact on the community during construction
        • CSX does not look like they are willing any corporate sacrifices during construction
          • Most of the brunt of this will be felt by the community
          • CSX will not be impacted
          • No reduction in train traffic is planned
  • CSX states that they are community friendly by involving the public in their discussions
  • CSX has stated that they have voluntarily given up shipping 2 forms of hazardous material through the city
    • They said they can remove that at any point (their decision)
    • They are not restricting any other hazardous chemicals through the area during construction
    • Again, CSX has not shown any willingness to reduce the risk on the community during the construction process by reducing their train traffic or restricting hazardous chemicals near extremely populated areas in a construction zone
CSX Outreach:
  • Focused on gaining public support
    • Funding Update
    • Traffic Study
      • Note the traffic study clear does not indicate any of the backups that result on 3rd street entrance to SE/SW Freeway
      • Has no idea of the impact of directing that much traffic down 4th Street From SE/SW exit
      • Says has attended over 20 public meetings, however has not once met with the residents directly impacted with the area until Monday night Apr 12, 2010
      • Have gone to great lengths to draw pictures of what they envision it will look like after construction
        • Not one picture or detail of what it might look like during construction.
          • No Open Tunnel Drawing
          • No Cross Street Drawings
          • No Pictures of the entire area during construction
          • Not one picture of what the cross streets will look like during construction.
  • When pressed for specifics they could only give the construction details below

CSX Plans:
  • Need Additional Funding – TIGER II or other transportation authorization. 165 Million in total
  • NEPA Environmental Study 6 mos. to 1 year.

Construction Details They Have Confirmed:
  • 2-3 Year Project
  • 25 Feet For New Temporary Track
  • 40 Feet for New Tunnel
    • 65 Feet Minimum Across -> Stated that in reality the work area would be around 100 foot across (matching their “right of way”)
    • At this area it would remove any tree along VA Ave
    • Plans for a massive fence but no noise reduction has been planned but could be considered
    • Trains will run through 24 hours per day 7 days a week
    • Continuous Flood Lights on entire project for 2-3 years
    • Additional Notes:
      • Says that it is quicker to do the entire VA Ave Tunnel at once
      • Not willing to do one section at a time even though it would reduce the community impact, but extend the project over a longer time period
        • Says “the community” does not want it done in sections
          • When pressed, they couldn’t tell us who made this decision
      • CSX has a strict timetable that meets their corporate needs to open VA Ave tunnel by 2015
  • When asked if they can tunnel, they state “we do not know what we will encounter by tunneling”
    • However how do they know what they will encounter by opening the roof? Isn’t it basically going to be dug out in the same location regardless?
    • Tunneling should be considered an option
EYA – Capitol Quarter
  • Says EYA was only concerned about homes just about to close between 4th and 5th street when they met earlier this year and not on the homes between 3rd and 4th street
    • Given that the question on vehicle access to the 3rd and 4th street areas off of VA Ave it surprises me that they could not come up with a single answer regarding the impact
    • It was clear they had no idea
    • CSX pointed out that the area would look better after they leave
      • How do you replace full grown trees that block sound from the Freeway
      • CSX stated that they will do everything they can to reduce the impact
      • CSX stated that they did not have to worry about emergency vehicle access due to their right-of-way
        • They did quickly point out that this is not what they plan to do
        • They just wanted to point out that it was optional for them
        • CSX also stated that they have a right-of-way through the community
        • They said that the community could access the driveways by turning around the edge of the community and not directly onto VA Ave
          • CSX stated that emergency vehicles could use the alley
            • Where are the fire hydrants in the alley?
            • Fire Trucks cannot make the turn
            • When pressed with these details CSX could not comment as they said they had no details and we would have to wait for the construction design to know exactly what would occur
            • Emergency Vehicle Access will be maintained
              • When pressed for details, they could offer none. They said they might “deck it over” to allow access
              • CSX stated that buyers into the community “Didn’t have to buy there” and that they started “early enough” to give everyone ample warning that this was happening
                • No buyers were allowed out of our contracts with EYA and the CSX announcement happened in November of 2009
                • Stephen Fillipin stated that he could easily live in one of the homes during construction and not be bothered
                • Stephen Fillipin also stated that the freeway noise is already there. Additional train and construction noise is not going to increase what is already there.
                • No sound studies are planned
                • CSX stated that EYA planning started after they started planning. They didn’t expect EYA to be there.
                  • CSX stated they didn’t know about EYA as it happened quick and later in the planning process
                  • JD brought up that they should have been reading her website as EYA’s plans have been detailed clearly since 2003-2004
                  • In summary, it is clear that CSX has no idea what the impact to the EYA homes between 3rd and 5th streets will be
CSX Positive

  • Entire project would be good for the country
    • True
    • No one is opposed to making this happen… just making it happen with the least community impact
    • CSX has not shown a way to lessen the community impact
    • Entire project supported by states not in local area
      • True
      • Project would reduce traffic on roads
        • False: No claim can be made that with the increase in freight traffic that more trucks will be pulled off the roads
        • Trucking companies benefit just as much from additional freight as the railroad
        • Better for environment with less trucks on road
          • No data has been presented to show that trucks will be reduced
          • Would trucking companies agree to this assessment
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. However, 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 existing new structures and landscaping.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another Account of the Latest Railroad Charm Offensive

Courtesy of Rob Lee, the following notes were provided of Monday's meeting:

CSX VA Avenue Tunnel Meeting 4/12/2010
Major Points:
· CSX requires no approvals from the City to begin any construction.
o They “just like a public utility” and can dig where they have the “right of way”
o 100 Foot Right of way down VA Avenue since 1901
o They only need funding and approval of the NEPA Study
· CSX representatives have not walked VA Avenue around the areas where the greatest community impact will occur
o They said “That is a great idea. We can walk the VA Avenue and see how close some of these structures really are” This was brought up when it was pointed out that if they dig out 100 feet across they will be in Capitol Quarter Living Rooms if they dig that far.
o They said that 100 feet was to the side walk. Between 3rd and 4th street it is 50 feet to the sidewalk with the emergency fire hydrants
§ Min Distance = 65 Feet
§ They need 100 Feet
· Structural integrity of the existing building foundation?
· 45 degree down angle from base of each building
§ When shown on Google maps the distance they stated “Perhaps we should walk the property” clearly showing that they have yet to do this
· CSX has no details of the actual impact on the community during construction
o CSX does not look like they are willing any corporate sacrifices during construction
§ Most of the brunt of this will be felt by the community
§ CSX will not be impacted
§ No reduction in train traffic is planned
o CSX states that they are community friendly by involving the public in their discussions
· CSX has stated that they have voluntarily given up shipping 2 forms of hazardous material through the city
o They said they can remove that at any point (their decision)
o They are not restricting any other hazardous chemicals through the area during construction
o Again, CSX has not shown any willingness to reduce the risk on the community during the construction process by reducing their train traffic or restricting hazardous chemicals near extremely populated areas in a construction zone
CSX Outreach:
· Focused on gaining public support
o Funding Update
o Traffic Study
§ Note the traffic study clear does not indicate any of the backups that result on 3rd street entrance to SE/SW Freeway
§ Has no idea of the impact of directing that much traffic down 4th Street From SE/SW exit
· Says has attended over 20 public meetings, however has not once met with the residents directly impacted with the area until Monday night Apr 12, 2010
· Have gone to great lengths to draw pictures of what they envision it will look like after construction
o Not one picture or detail of what it might look like during construction.
§ No Open Tunnel Drawing
§ No Cross Street Drawings
§ No Pictures of the entire area during construction
o Not one picture of what the cross streets will look like during construction.
o When pressed for specifics they could only give the construction details below
CSX Plans:
· Need Additional Funding – TIGER II or other transportation authorization. 165 Million in total
· NEPA Environmental Study 6 mos. to 1 year.
Construction Details They Have Confirmed:
· 2-3 Year Project
· 25 Feet For New Temporary Track
· 40 Feet for New Tunnel
o 65 Feet Minimum Across -> Stated that in reality the work area would be around 100 foot across (matching their “right of way”)
o At this area it would remove any tree along VA Ave
· Plans for a massive fence but no noise reduction has been planned but could be considered
· Trains will run through 24 hours per day 7 days a week
· Continuous Flood Lights on entire project for 2-3 years
· Additional Notes:
o Says that it is quicker to do the entire VA Ave Tunnel at once
o Not willing to do one section at a time even though it would reduce the community impact, but extend the project over a longer time period
§ Says “the community” does not want it done in sections
· When pressed, they couldn’t tell us who made this decision
§ CSX has a strict timetable that meets their corporate needs to open VA Ave tunnel by 2015
o When asked if they can tunnel, they state “we do not know what we will encounter by tunneling”
§ However how do they know what they will encounter by opening the roof? Isn’t it basically going to be dug out in the same location regardless?
§ Tunneling should be considered an option
EYA – Capitol Quarter
· Says EYA was only concerned about homes just about to close between 4th and 5th street when they met earlier this year and not on the homes between 3rd and 4th street
o Given that the question on vehicle access to the 3rd and 4th street areas off of VA Ave it surprises me that they could not come up with a single answer regarding the impact
o It was clear they had no idea
o CSX pointed out that the area would look better after they leave
§ How do you replace full grown trees that block sound from the Freeway
· CSX stated that they will do everything they can to reduce the impact
· CSX stated that they did not have to worry about emergency vehicle access due to their right-of-way
o They did quickly point out that this is not what they plan to do
o They just wanted to point out that it was optional for them
· CSX also stated that they have a right-of-way through the community
· They said that the community could access the driveways by turning around the edge of the community and not directly onto VA Ave
o CSX stated that emergency vehicles could use the alley
§ Where are the fire hydrants in the alley?
§ Fire Trucks cannot make the turn
§ When pressed with these details CSX could not comment as they said they had no details and we would have to wait for the construction design to know exactly what would occur
· Emergency Vehicle Access will be maintained
o When pressed for details, they could offer none. They said they might “cover it up” to allow access
· CSX stated that buyers into the community “Didn’t have to buy there” and that they started “early enough” to give everyone ample warning that this was happening
o No buyers were allowed out of our contracts with EYA and the CSX announcement happened in November of 2009
o Stephen Fillipin stated that he could easily live in one of the homes during construction and not be bothered
o Stephen Fillipin also stated that the freeway noise is already there. Additional train and construction noise is not going to increase what is already there.
o No sound studies are planned
· CSX stated that EYA planning started after they started planning. They didn’t expect EYA to be there.
o CSX stated they didn’t know about EYA as it happened quick and later in the planning process
o JD brought up that they should have been reading her website as EYA’s plans have been detailed clearly since 2003-2004
· In summary, it is clear that CSX has no idea what the impact to the EYA homes between 3rd and 5th streets will be
CSX Positive
· Entire project would be good for the country
o True
o No one is opposed to making this happen… just making it happen with the least community impact
o CSX has not shown a way to lessen the community impact
· Entire project supported by states not in local area
o True
· Project would reduce traffic on roads
o False: No claim can be made that with the increase in freight traffic that more trucks will be pulled off the roads
o Trucking companies benefit just as much from additional freight as the railroad
· Better for environment with less trucks on road
o No data has been presented to show that trucks will be reduced
o Would trucking companies agree to this assessment

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. They have misjudged the community. The community is interested in knowing what the effect would be during construction. CSX has missed the mark. It should be applauded that they are at least reaching out. However, 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 existing new structures and landscaping.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Empire Strikes Back

After the defeat of the ill-advised attempt to receive TIGER grant funding for the tunnel project, and the stagnation of the Highway Authorization bill, it seemed that those pushing for the VA Avenue Tunnel would lick their wounds for awhile. Instead they are redoubling efforts to claim "community support" for their project by wishing away the severe impacts of this project in a burst of optimism. CSX will be briefing ANC6B tomorrow on their latest plans for the project, but the record is clear: The railroad still has no plan for managing traffic, emissions, or debris from this project.

All members of CHARTX, their friends and neighbors are invited to the ANC6B meeting at 535 8th Street SE (People's Church) starting at 7pm. Let the advocates (and their shadow advocates who see no harm in this destructive project) know your thoughts and feelings.