Washington, D.C. residents are decrying the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) seeming preapproval of CSX Transportation’s proposal to rebuild a tunnel in Southeast Washington before the completion of a federal environmental assessment of the plan.

DDOT issued occupancy permits as early as December 2012 clearing CSX’s right-of-way to roads near the Virginia Avenue Tunnel pending approval of the plan, according to the final environmental impact study released last week.

For the past two years, CSX has been advancing its proposal to rebuild and expand the 3,800-foot, 110-year-old tunnel to accommodate two tracks and double-stacked intermodal freight trains. A CSX spokeswoman previously told the AFRO the tunnel’s single track is a chokepoint along its Eastern Seaboard freight rail corridor, and that it must be expanded to accommodate expected increases in freight transportation demand due in part to the expansion of the Panama Canal scheduled for next year.

SX Expnsion

DCSafeRail, a multi-racial, multi-generational and mixed-income coalition of residents living near the tunnel who oppose the plan, say they are concerned that a D.C. agency offered such an early commitment before the mandatory federal process was completed.

“We hope that the District Government has not thrown us under the freight train,” said Helen Douglas, a member of DCSafeRail, which has cited health and safety concerns.

“At best, this indicates that the District government is failing to uphold basic principles of good government, including transparency and accountability,” added Douglas.” At worst, it suggests that the environmental study is a farce because it rubber-stamps the CSX open-trench proposal.”

DCSafeRail met with Mayor Vincent Gray in January to express their concerns and were reassured by his promise that he would not allow a proposal that would “endanger the health and safety of D.C. residents.”

CSX Expnsion

Now, Douglas said, they are asking Gray “to honor his commitment to us and withdraw any pre-EIS approval for these permits and conduct a true EIS with real alternatives to the CSX Tunnel fully analyzed.”

DCSafeRail will also ask the City Council, through Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of the Council’s transportation oversight committee, and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells to hold hearings on the whole CSX Tunnel EIS.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO