The Virginia Avenue tunnel reconstruction project involves replacement of the century-old tunnel in south-east Washington, US, in order to increase its capacity. The reconstruction project will replace the current single-track tunnel with a two-track tunnel.

The tunnel, owned by CSX Transportation, is a key element of the East Coast rail transportation network in the US and serves as an important route for freight trains. It is located beneath Virginia Avenue SE, with 2nd Street SE on the west side to 11th Street SE on the east side.

The reconstruction works will be carried out in two phases with an estimated investment of $250m. The first phase began in May 2015 and was completed in December 2016, while the second phase is scheduled for completion in 2018.

Funding for the project is being provided jointly by CSX and the state of Virginia.

Virginia Avenue tunnel history

The structures of the 1.158km-long tunnel were constructed in 1872. The tunnel has been experiencing frequent interruptions and operational deficiencies due to ageing infrastructure.

The single track of the tunnel is causing delays in the flow of freight train traffic, and congestion for commuter trains. CSX released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the construction of two tunnels by replacing the existing structure, in order to address the concerns.

The tunnel reconstruction project forms part of the $850m National Gateway Initiative, which is a public-private partnership announced in 2008 to support the creation of efficient corridors for rail freight between Mid Atlantic sea ports and the Midwest.

Virginia Avenue tunnel reconstruction details

The reconstruction of the Virginia Avenue tunnel will increase the tunnel width to accommodate a second track and raise the height of the tunnel roof to allow the passage of double-stack intermodal freight trains carrying two freight containers stacked on each car.

“Reconstruction of the ageing tunnel will ease rail and highway truck traffic on the CSX I-95 corridor and reduce nearly 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.”

Phase one of the project included relocation of major utilities and demolishing a portion of the existing tunnel’s south wall and roof to accommodate the new south tunnel alignment. A secant pile wall system beside the remaining section of the south wall was constructed to support the excavation system.

A dividing wall was also built between the new tracks for the majority of the reconstructed tunnel. A new 4,100ft, cut-and-cover, cast-in-place concrete structure was built to the south of the existing brick and stone masonry tunnel.

The second phase of work will involve demolition of the remaining parts of the current tunnel’s roof and south wall, as well as construction of the new north tunnel, and restoration of ten blocks of Virginia Avenue with advanced amenities.

Virginia Avenue Tunnel reconstruction benefits

The reconstruction of the ageing tunnel will ease rail and highway truck traffic on the CSX I-95 corridor and offset approximately 5.5 million tons of CO2 emissions. It will also reduce maintenance costs and contribute $250m in revenue to the local economy by creating direct and indirect jobs.

The project will also benefit the surrounding communities by providing better access to Garfield Park for wheelchair-dependent individuals, building a bike path between 2nd and 9th Streets, and a dedicated dog park at Virginia Avenue Park.

The traffic lane configuration and traffic signals between 5th/6th and 8th Streets will be improved to provide safer traffic conditions.

Contractors involved

The project is being implemented by CSX in co-operation with local and federal authorities including the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDoT) and the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

The design-build contract for the project was awarded to a team of contractors including Clark Civil and Parsons Transportation in September 2015. The project team also includes Clark Foundations, Clark Concrete, C3M Power Systems, and Metro Earthworks.