Virginia Avenue Tunnels western portal from New Jersey Avenue SEs western portal from New Jersey Avenue SE

D.C. Council Chariman Phil Mendelson held a marathon five-hour hearing today on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel—-an operating, 100-year-old rail track for freight trains that runs through the Navy Yard and Capitol Hill areas. The owner of the tunnel, CSX Transportation, says it’s in need of major renovations.

And some residents don’t want those renovations to happen, at least not in the way CSX has proposed. The company wants to widen and deepen the 4,000-foot tunnel to allow for double-stacked freight trains and a second track for two-way traffic. The construction is expected to last more than three years, and CSX wants trains to run through the tunnel while the construction is underway. The residents fear the environmental and safety hazards it would pose to the community.

The Committee of the Whole hearing was slated to discuss a proposed resolution that calls for the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to hold a hearing on the controversial project. The Federal Highway Administration is the lead agency for the project.

But today’s hearing scarcely referenced the legislation, and instead served as a forum for residents to raise their concerns in front of Mendelson. CSX representatives were also there to testify and answer Mendelson’s questions.

The issues discussed today were nothing new. The Navy Yard and Capitol Hall resident have long been vocal in their opposition to this project, packing community meeting after community meeting on the subject. “This is a project that brings no additional benefit to the city whatsoever,” Tomas Bilbao, a resident, said today.

CSX assured Mendelson and the residents the construction would not be used to increase the transportation of crude oil through the city. Louis Renjel, the vice president for strategic infrastructure at CSX,  says his company is “acutely aware” that the construction will be inconvenient to residents, but it is doing everything to mitigate the disturbances.

At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, who was in attendance for the beginning of the hearing, said the project is so complicated because “this is one of things that need to be solved today, and the impact of that solution can have an impact for the next hundred years.”

Photo by Matt’ Johnson via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0