A planned upgrade of a train tunnel that runs underneath Virginia Avenue Southeast could create a headache for Capitol Hill commuters from next year through 2015.
The first in a series of public information meetings about the project will be held Wednesday. The construction is slated to start in summer 2012 and will take place about one mile southeast of the Capitol.
In the affected area, Virginia Avenue Southeast is split into eastbound lanes, which run along the south side of the Southeast Freeway, and westbound lanes, which run north of it. The tunnel is underneath the eastbound lanes, and they will likely be closed during construction. It’s uncertain whether the westbound lanes will be affected.
A ramp from eastbound Virginia Avenue to Interstate 295 may also be closed.
The specifics about the closures and the timeline haven’t been finalized, but commuters who travel through the area should plan on seeking new routes.
“A lot of that congestion would get pushed north toward the Capitol as people look for alternate routes,” said Jacqueline Dupree, whose award-winning urban planning and development blog
JDLand.com focuses on a portion of the District’s Southeast quadrant. “People traveling to Capitol Hill from Virginia will have to share exit lanes with people headed to the Navy Yards that are taking an alternate route. Also, the tunnel opens up at Garfield Park, so there will be a lot of noise and construction around there.”
CSX Transportation Inc. owns and operates the 4,000-foot-long freight train tunnel that runs beneath Virginia Avenue Southeast for nine blocks, from Second Street Southeast to 11th Street Southeast.
The dual-rail network collapses to a single track at the tunnel, and the proposed project would lay a parallel track to ease a chokepoint of train traffic that the company says causes delays throughout the Washington region. CSX also wants to increase the tunnel’s height to accommodate double-stacked freight trains, which it says are “more environmentally sensitive.”
The project is expected to take three years to complete. In order to keep the rail lines open to train traffic during construction, a trench with temporary tracks will be installed nearby.
“We know [commuter traffic] is an area of concern,” CSX spokesman Chip Dobson said last week. “As our plan develops, we may find it desirable or necessary to study those things that may be impacted, but we could conceivably have an alternative that doesn’t have that impact. We’re assessing a number of different concepts.”
Still, CSX has already petitioned the District Department of Transportation for a permit to close the Southeast Freeway/I-295 ramp at Eighth Street and Virginia Avenue Southeast, and Dobson acknowledged the location of the tunnel likely means the section of eastbound Virginia Avenue will have to be closed.