Neighbors Nervous About Virginia Tunnel Expansion Plan

The D.C. Council is considering a formal appeal to Congress for a hearing on a CSX plan to expand the Virginia Avenue Tunnel.

CSX is concerned the single-track tunnel, which dates to the early 1900s, is showing its age, but the expansion project could disrupt a thriving neighborhood and thousands of residents for years.

Freight trains now take turns passing just south of the U.S. Capitol building for a mile under Virginia Avenue along the Southeast/Southwest Freeway.

Nervous residents of the neighborhood -- some living just a few feet away from the tunnel expansion -- are fighting the project, which would create a mile-long, open-air construction pit and block some streets for five years or more.

Once an industrial area, it’s filled with $600,000 townhomes.

“This neighborhood is changed completely in 10 years,” said James Bennett, a retired art and antique restorer who lives nearby in a senior citizen home. “You have people here who brought their children. People are having babies in this neighborhood.”

Dust and pollution will harm local citizens, Bennett said.

“I'm huffing and I’m puffing now,” he said. “I dread to see what will happen when these streets are torn up.”

“They want to run active trains through the construction site, which is one of the major concerns of the community,” neighborhood Commissioner David Garber said.

The D.C. Council is considering a resolution of disapproval for the project, which needs local permits.

CSX sees the expansion as part of a vital effort to ease train access at the aging tunnel and all along the eastern seaboard.

“It's a bottle neck, so it creates a ripple of rail congestion around the District, which impacts VRE commuters, Amtrak passengers as well as freight trains,” CSX Vice President Louis Renjel said.

CSX said it will be environmentally sensitive to local residents and nearby residential streets.

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