D.C. City Council hears testimony on controversial train tunnel expansion

    Many D.C. residents are fighting proposed plans to expand a train tunnel along Virginia Avenue. (WJLA)

    WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Plans to expand a major rail tunnel in Southeast Washington continue to face fierce opposition.

    The tunnel runs along Virginia Avenue, between Second and 11th streets.

    Delores Rhodes is an outspoken advocate for her neighborhood near the tunnel. It is a neighborhood divided by the plans to widen the Virginia Avenue train tunnel.

    "CSX sayin’ that they will minimize this, they can't control the wind, so, they can't control the dust, they can't control the noise, they can't control the debris," Rhodes said.

    On Tuesday, Rhodes and more than two dozen District residents gave testimony before the D.C. City Council, denouncing the plan that would add an additional track and be large enough for a double-stacked train. The D.C. City Council convened an unusual summer hearing to listen to testimony on the CSX proposal.

    "DDOT and CSX [have] been treating us with blatant disrespect by outright ignoring or brushing aside our concerns, with no facts or bad facts and now we know why,” said D.C. resident James McPhillips. “DDOT had no reason to take public concerns seriously when it had already decided to give CSX what it wanted.”

    CSX said the permit would be terminated if the federal government scraps the plans. DDOT had no comment about the day's testimony.

    In the past, CSX said the Virginia Avenue tunnel was old and might collapse. In June, an environmental impact statement revealed that the tunnel was not in danger of collapsing. However, CSX says now is the time to act.

    "Waiting is wrong for several reasons. First, consistent findings from more than 10 previous Amtrak and government studies call for the tunnel to be expanded. Second, this tunnel ages every day while the surrounding community continues to attract new residents. So any construction at a later time would inconvenience more residents - not fewer," said a testimony script from Louis E. Renjel Jr., the vice president of Strategic Infrastructure Investment for CSX Transportation.

    "If it's inevitable then we will have a larger economic impact, and impact more people,” said D.C. City Councilmember Tommy Wells. “If it's not inevitable, we need to understand what that means.”

    Residents say there is time to wait, even for the inevitable.

    "The best outcome would be if they scrapped the old environmental study, and they start over and they do the process right this time, in a fair way that incorporates community input," said D.C. resident Natalie Skidmore.

    The Federal Highway Administration is expected to give a decision after Sept. 15. CSX says construction could take anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 years.

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