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Committee of 100 files lawsuit to derail rail project

The Virginia Avenue Tunnel. (NewsChannel 8 photo)

WASHINGTON (NewsChannel 8) – The D.C. group that serves to protect the interests of the capital city is now suing over a major rail project in the works.

The Committee of 100 on the Federal City has filed suit against the Virginia Avenue Tunnel expansion in Southeast Washington. The rail tunnel expansion has been in the works for years, and last week the Federal Highway Administration approved a construction alternative for the project.

The Committee of 100 had been following the developments and spoken out at several public hearings. It filed a lawsuit against the project on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in D.C. The lawsuit was filed against agencies like the Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Mayor Vincent Gray. Vice Chair Monte Edwards said those are the agencies that are responsible for giving approvals and permits to CSX for the project. He said the goal of the lawsuit is to stop the project before work begins.

"We want a new environmental impact statement that takes into account alternative routing and takes into account the results of the D.C. rail plan which is now under way," he said.

The lawsuit alleges that the previous environmental review and FHWA's approval was unlawful, saying it failed to look at alternative routes and the decisions were based on dated and inaccurate information.

"The outcome of the environmental impact study was determined before the thing started. Back in 2010, there were agreements between CSX and DDOT, we allege, that essentially locked DDOT into supporting the tunnel expansion," said Les Alderman III, attorney for the Committee of 100.

CSX is not named in the lawsuit. A motion for a temporary injunction to prevent the rail company from obtaining construction permits was also filed.

Spokesman Ron Doolittle released this statement by email on Wednesday:

"The reconstruction of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel has been approved by the Federal and District of Columbia governments following a lengthy public oversight, review and comment process that shaped the final design of this project. CSX is committed to doing this project the right way, safely, respecting our neighbors and working closely with residents and businesses to minimize impacts and to ensure that they are informed about construction plans. Modernizing this tunnel will help alleviate freight and passenger rail delays and stimulate economic growth by removing a significant transportation bottleneck. CSX believes the project should move forward promptly."

Maureen Cohen Harrington is a member of the Committee of 100 and also lives feet from the future construction site. She said CSX has offered to pay some residents roughly $16 a day during construction. However, she doesn't trust the safety of even more freight traveling through the monument core of the city.

"Putting every aspect of our lives in disturbance and putting our very lives at risk and inconvenienced," she said.

The court battle could take months.

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