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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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D.C. Rail Tunnel Plan Worries Planning Group

WASHINGTON (CN) - A community-based planning and advocacy group says the federal government ignored alternatives to a major freight line renovation, instead greenlighting a project that will enlarge a rail tunnel that cuts through the heart of the District of Columbia.

The Committee of 100 on the Federal City sued officials from the Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency along with D.C. officials over their approval of non-party CSX Transportation's plan to open up the rail tunnel that runs beneath Virginia Avenue in Southeast Washington to double-tracking.

According to the complaint, the project to expand the tunnel - which runs just blocks away from the U.S. Capitol - was approved without examining alternative routes or a no-build option, in violation to the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The group adds that the environmental impact statements on the project contain material misstatements about the alternatives, "including an exaggerated account of the degree to which the Virginia Avenue Tunnel, standing alone, impedes freight rail on the eastern seaboard, which resulted in an inadequate assessment of the 'no build' alternative."

The complaint states: "Similarly, while the EIS relies on cost estimates included in the 2007 Railroad Realignment Feasibility Study, produced by the National Capital Planning Commission, to support the decision to give no further consideration to the alternative routing around Washington, D.C., the EIS and record of decision fail to acknowledge that the same study concluded that the benefits of rerouting around Washington, D.C. far outweighed those costs - even without considering the costs associated with a rail spill or other incident, such as a terrorist attack."

The tunnel expansion is a small part of CSX's National Gateway Initiative project, a plan to make freight transportation throughout the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest more efficient.

The current tunnel that cuts beneath Virginia Avenue currently only allows for single tracking. CSX wants to carve out enough space to run double-stack intermodal trains through the tunnel.

"The final EIS rejected, and failed to give legally adequate consideration to the 'no build' option and the 'alternative route' options," the group states in its complaint. "The final EIS includes material misrepresentations that ensured that the 'no build option' would be rejected, including the statement that 'the single railroad track within Virginia Avenue Tunnel represents the single greatest constraint on rail headway ... on CSX's mainline freight rail network. It is a bottleneck to the eastern seaboard freight rail corridor because only a single freight train can pass through the tunnel at any one time.'"

But the group says that the costs of a potential rail spill or even a terrorist attack tips the balance so that rerouting around the city is more economically feasible.

The group names Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Federal Highway Administration Administrator Victor Mendez, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, General James Amos and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell as defendants. It also names the Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis, lame duck D.C. mayor Vincent Gray and Matthew Brown, the acting director of the D.C. Department of Transportation.

The group wants a declaration that the government violated federal law by failing to consider such alternatives, and is represented by Leslie Alderman III of Alderman, Devorsetz & Hora.

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