CSX Plays Cards Close to Vest on Impact of Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project – Major Disruption of Community Will Trigger Compensating Benefits

CSX Plays Cards Close to Vest on Impact of Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project – Major Disruption of Community Will Trigger Compensating Benefits

by Larry Janezich

By participating in several public meetings and putting every possible option for the tunnel project on the table (whether feasible or not), CSX appears to be trying to fully engage the community on the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel (VAT) project. 

However, so far, CSX presentations have been lacking in any real information about the impact of the project on the community.  The VAT, according to former CHRS President Dick Wolf, will be the most disruptive project on Capitol Hill since the Metro.  (Reflecting on that experience for those around long enough to remember it brings to mind the word “mud”.)  And the consequences for those businesses, buildings, and residences near the dig will be severe for several years.  In addition to keeping its own counsel on the project, CSX has been courting community good will; witness the considerable public relations dollars spent in support of the Barracks Row Fest this fall, which featured the CSX logo naming its sponsorship of some of the most expensive exhibitions. 

Tonight at 7:00pm in Hill Center, ANC6B will consider recommending to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and DDOT that certain principles be used to evaluate the six proposals to rebuild the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel before CSX brings its short list of options before the public next February.  It was the consensus of the committee that the “rebuild” options – Options 2-7 on the CSX website  http://www.virginiaavenuetunnel.com  are the most viable.   (Click on Public Involvement and the download the November 30 alternatives presentation)

A preliminary list of principles – in brief – is as follows, though these could be altered or expanded at tonight’s ANC6B meeting.

Minimize transportation disruptions and risks.

Minimize damage to homes and businesses.

Minimize environmental impacts.

Minimize the length of construction.

The ANC will also likely express its desire to know about any plans CSX has for mitigation – benefits to the community for the impact of the construction on the quality of life. 

On Friday, December 9, at a CHRS-sponsored public meeting on the CSX project, a CSX representative stated that the railroad’s priorities include maintaining traffic flow during construction, minimizing construction impact on the neighborhood, and providing community enhancements.  Regardless of CSX’s intent and the ANC efforts, the consequences of the dig for whichever option is finally selected will make the quality of life for many Capitol Hill businesses and residents difficult – if not miserable – for years.

That’s why the mitigation issue is an important part of both the ANC’s concerns and CSX’s priorities.    

While CHRS has been positioning itself for several months to have a voice in the conversation regarding what benefits the community should reap for the disruption the construction (and possibly the aftermath) the project will cause, the subject is just being broached within ANC6B. 

CHRS has applied for “consulting party” status under the National Historic Preservation Act.  This status entitles them to receive information and documents, raise objections to agency findings, be consulted before and notified after issuance of FHWA findings, and consulted on identifying ways to minimize adverse effects on the community.  In addition, “consulting parties” are provided with a Memorandum of Agreement that stipulates mitigation measures. 

Some stakeholders are automatically entitled to “consulting party” status. Individuals, businesses, and organizations that believe they will be affected by or have a vested interest in the impact of the project should seriously consider seeking “consulting party” status, and CHRS has urged them to do so.  Details and an extensive list of contacts can be found in the latest CHRS newsletter (which – as of this writing – has not yet been posted to the CHRS website, but which will soon be) at: http://www.chrs.org/Pages/6_Pubs.html#CHRSNews

It is somewhat unclear whether ANC6B is automatically entitled to consulting party status, and, to date, it is a question that ANC6B appears not to have asked itself.  While the DC Preservation Office regards ANCs eligible for “consulting party” status, the federal guidelines:  “Involving Local Governments in Section 106 Reviews for Transportation Projects” at http://www.achp.gov/docs/LocalGovernmentsSection106.pdf  are more ambiguous. 

“Depending on its interests and its role in Section 106 review, a local government may be represented by the governing body, an elected official, or staff with responsibilities for planning, recreation, or historic preservation. Historic Preservation Commissions, appointed by the governing board, may participate to provide expertise on local ordinances protecting historic districts, design review, and the identification of properties of local or regional significance. Elected officials may also wish to participate directly in consultation, particularly if the project and the Section 106 review process are of high public interest.”

This is not definitive with respect to ANCs’ status, but it seems broad enough to include the ANC. 

If the Historic Preservation Act Section 106 review already initiated by FHWA shows that historic properties are adversely affected – and it is hard to see how they will not be, since anything built before 1945 (including the Virginia Avenue Tunnel itself) qualifies – FHWA will continue consultation with “consulting parties” to reach agreement about ways to avoid, minimize, and or mitigate adverse effects.  Those who are likely to be affected need to be part of this consultation.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “CSX Plays Cards Close to Vest on Impact of Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project – Major Disruption of Community Will Trigger Compensating Benefits

  1. Vernon

    The link “virginiaavenuetunnel.com” actually refers to .org which does not exist.

    Try as I might, I cannot find “Options 2-7” anywhere on that site.

    Finally, it is hard to believe that a construction project in and around the shadows and ramps of the Southeast Freeway could be as disruptive as Metro construction in the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhoods.

  2. (Click on Public Involvement and the download the November 30 alternatives presentation)

  3. KC

    I am interested that you say there will be “years” of construction. Do you know this for a fact? I asked several CSX reps at the meeting about timing and they would not commit to even general timeframes for any of the proposals–and I asked about several that seemed to me to be relevant.

    I think that before they are allowed to present any preferred proposals, that they be asked to put timeframes for construction on each proposal, so that we can make an informed decision. This should not be hard work for a good construction estimator–and I am sure that CSX has several.

    I frankly don’t see why it should take “years” to do this construction.

  4. Regarding construction time estimate for CSX VAT, see Greater Greater Washington post “CSX plans for Virginia Avenue Tunnel replacement” by Matt Johnson • April 13, 2010

  5. dscheeder

    As one who not only remembers metro construction and had to go through a lengthy process to get compensation for damage to my house, the problem is bigger than mud. It is what happens when a great deal of earth is displaced and causes properties to settle differently in the ground. Gutters become uneven,bricks need to be re-aligned. etc etc.etc. There really needs to be some studies done re the ground that the nearby buildings rest on and what will happen as a result of the tunnel being dug. There will also need to be a speedy process to resolve claims.

  6. SHolmes

    Larry, some of the assertions in this blog are incorrect or misleading, and I’d like to offer some clarification for your readers.

    First, historic preservation review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) only addresses effects on historic properties, so anyone concerned about other kinds of project effects — such as on air quality, wildlife, watershed, construction hours, etc. — would not see those effects addressed in the project’s Section 106 review.

    Second, historic properties are not, as you stated, anything built before 1945. “Historic properties” are defined in the Section 106 regulations as “any prehistoric or historic district, site, building, structure, or object included in, or eligible for inclusion in, the National Register of Historic Places…” and only properties meeting this definition are considered during Section 106 review. Where the date you cited DOES apply is for “contributing properties” within the Capitol Hill Historic District, because its period of significance ranges from pre-1791 through 1945 — so effects on those contributing properties would be considered in Section 106 review.

    Third, the paragraph about consulting parties that begins “Some stakeholders…” is quite misleading, as not everyone “…that believe[s] they will be affected by or have a vested interest in the impact of the project…” would be entitled to be a consulting party in Section 106 review, nor would they necessarily meet the threshold for status as an “additional consulting party” as defined in the Section 106 regulations at 800.2(c)(5), which reads: “Additional consulting parties. Certain individuals and organizations with a demonstrated interest in the undertaking may participate as consulting parties due to the nature of their legal or economic relation to the undertaking or affected properties, or their concern with the undertaking’s effects on historic properties.” If such persons or organizations are not invited by FHWA/DDOT to be consulting parties, they need to make a written request for consulting party status to FHWA, which must consider all such written requests.

    You would do your readers a service by clarifying these matters in your blog and by citing the regulatory language, much as you did in quoting from the local government guidance. Since trying to paraphrase regulatory language can fraught with snares, I suggest you also provide the link to “Protecting Historic Properties: A Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 Review” at http://www.achp.gov/docs/CitizenGuide.pdf