Reconstruction of the Virginia Avenue SE train tunnel will continue.
In a decision issued today, a federal judge in D.C. refused to grant an injunction to a city watchdog group trying to stop work on the CSX railroad tunnel.
The Committee of the 100 on the Federal City filed an application in November asking the court for a preliminary injunction banning the District Department of Transportation from issuing permits for the project.
U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper ruled today that the Committee did not prove the worthiness of their request. “Nor has it shown that the potential environmental harm of reconstruction outweighs the public benefit from modernizing the tunnel,” his opinion said.
Cooper wrote in the 46-page court filing that the Committee did not prove that reconstruction of the 111-year-old tunnel would cause “certain and great” injury because of noise, vibrations, air pollutants or the risk of a rail accident. Here’s an excerpt from the document:
… the Committee’s contentions that a new tunnel will lead to more accidents and a greater risk of terrorist attack are speculative at best. And with the exception of the removal of some 200 trees, the Committee has not established that any environmental effects of the construction activity will be severe or irreparable.
Moreover, although the construction inevitably will be disruptive and unsightly, the Committee has identified only one of its members who will be directly affected. This is not to minimize Ms. [Maureen Cohen] Harrington’s understandable misgivings over the prospect of a large-scale construction project outside her front window in the coming years. But her concerns do not outweigh the broader public’s substantial interest in modernizing this deteriorating and outmoded tunnel.
The $170 million CSX project will enlarge and reconstruct the aging freight tunnel that runs beneath Virginia Avenue SE from 2nd to 11th streets. The work will eliminate a bottleneck that delays freight and passenger travel.
ANC 6B commissioners said late last year that they support the advancement of the work.
A city watchdog group filed a lawsuit this afternoon to halt the federally-approved reconstruction of the CSX railroad tunnel along Virginia Avenue SE.
As Hill Now reported last week, The Committee of the 100 on the Federal City opposes the project to enlarge and rebuild 110-year-old tunnel because it says the project would be unsafe and it would hurt rail circulation over the long term.
Today at a press conference, representatives of the committee and other stakeholders emphasized that they want to delay construction until the D.C. Council completes its $500,000 study of the area’s railway system next year.
“Our goal is to maintain the status quo, let the D.C. Council complete the D.C. rail plan and then look at the environmental impact statement again after we have all that information,” said Monte Williams, a representative from the committee, after a press conference in front of D.C.’s Federal District Court.
The lawsuit claims that a federal environmental impact statement regarding the project was improperly carried out because the District Department of Transportation entered into an illegal quid pro quo agreement with CSX. Also, the lawsuit claims the environmental report studied an arbitrary area and it failed to take account of safety and environmental concerns.
Leslie Alderman, a lawyer for The Committee of 100, said he would file a preliminary injunction to halt any construction today.
The Federal Highway Administration, the principal federal defendant in the case, said it does not comment on ongoing litigation. Council member-elect Charles Allen did not immediately return inquiries about the matter. Advocates have also called on the District Council to pass legislation delaying the project.
“No one is looking to delay for delay’s sake. I think it is very compelling to complete the comprehensive rail plan before starting this project,” said Meredith Fascett, a newly-elected ANC 6D commissioner, who spoke at the conference. “Let’s see what the results are.”