A federal decision on the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel project has been delayed, to the relief of a group of D.C. residents who are against the proposed plans.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Aug. 19 announced the Federal Highway Administration has delayed issuing a record of decision, or ROD, until after until after Sept. 15, as Norton requested, to allow the D.C. Council to review the project.

“I appreciate decision to delay the ROD as a courtesy to the District of Columbia Council Committee of the Whole and Committee on Transportation and Environment to allow their oversight hearing on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel project on August 26,” Norton said.  “It is the Council’s obligation to D.C. residents to provide appropriate oversight of the project, and it is only fair that respect the time needed to accomplish this obligation.”

The tunnel project is privately-funded by CSX Transportation, which wants to rebuild and expand the 3,800-foot, 110-year-old tunnel to accommodate two tracks and double-stacked intermodal freight trains. However, because there are some federal and D.C. properties that will be impacted by construction, approval from the Federal Highway Administration and the D.C. Department of Transportation are necessary.

DCSafeRail, a coalition of D.C. residents, has voiced a number of concerns about the project, including potential traffic congestion during its three- to six-year construction and potential noise and air pollution.

Norton has met with residents, held a number of community meetings, and has attempted to respond to their concerns. For example, Norton got the Federal Highway Administration to agree to extend the Final Environmental Impact Statement review period and to hold a second public meeting. And, now she has effected another extension.

“All of us at DCSafeRail extend a heartfelt thanks to Congresswoman Norton for supporting the need for local input into this transportation project with far- and long-reaching implications,” Maureen Cohen Harrington of DCSafeRail said in a statement. “We also thank for heeding her appeal and delaying the CSX decision.”

“However, as we’ve said repeatedly, a final decision on the CSX expansion should NOT be made until the Council’s DC Rail Plan is complete,” Harrington added. “This analysis of all rail service in the District will allow the coordinated expansion of passenger, commuter, and freight service. We must not let CSX dictate transportation policy for the District. And we must not allow this policy, and the grant of new right of way to CSX, to have been made behind closed doors. The entire environmental review was tainted by secret agreements between CSX and the District Department of Transportation that were only recently—and incompletely—revealed. The need for Council oversight is critical.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO