Judge OKs Bigger Train Tunnel in D.C.

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Newly unearthed federal documents did not persuade a federal judge to block expansion of a train tunnel underneath Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, to the dismay of an influential advocacy group.
     The Committee of 100 on the Federal City has been fighting for months against the reconstruction of a rail tunnel underneath Virginia Avenue.
     The influential nonprofit claimed in court that the District of Columbia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration approved the plan without proper consideration of its environmental impacts.
     After a federal judge on April 7 denied the Committee’s request for an injunction, the committee filed a motion to reconsider. It claimed that DDOT and FHWA documents showed the agencies had predetermined the outcome of an environmental impact study of the tunnel.
     U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper denied the motion Tuesday, finding that the Committee of 100 did “not satisfy its burden to demonstrate that the agencies failed objectively to consider the environmental impacts of the reconstruction.”
     The Committee’s lawsuit stems from a plan by CSX Transportation to expand a 111-year-old Virginia Avenue tunnel with a second track and raised ceiling. After DDOT and FHWA approved CSXT’s proposal, the Committee sued the two agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, and D.C. officials.
     The Committee of 100 claimed the DDOT unlawfully predetermined the outcome of a required National Environmental Protection Act review by entering into a series of agreements with CSXT. The Committee also blamed the FHWA, claiming it failed to independently consider the data and analysis in the DDOT’s impact statement.
     In its motion to reconsider, the Committee submitted documents on project negotiations between DDOT and CSXT, and other DDOT documents.
     Agencies are allowed and even encouraged to announce their preferred alternative when considering environmental impact options, Cooper wrote, but must not irreversibly commit resources to a certain project before the environmental impact statement is complete.
     The Committee read too much into emails from the Mayor’s Office and other communications about the project, Cooper said. Nowhere in the communications did DDOT agree to reach a specific NEPA outcome.
     Although some of the DDOT documents could be read to indicate a willingness to arrive at a favorable NEPA outcome, Cooper wrote, the agency never made any promises. He found that the context of the documents shows that DDOT’s actions were well within the appropriate scope of an agency working on a NEPA review.

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