CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel Reconstruction Project:
A case study in managing community relations from an engineering perspective, while replacing critical infrastructure.
By Charles E. Gullakson, PE
CSX Transportation's “Virginia Avenue Tunnel Reconstruction Project” (VAT) located in Washington, DC has presented unique and extraordinary challenges to the traditional civil engineer. Construction of the new tunnels in a dense urban environment in close proximity to District residents, and active government offices and businesses in the nation's capital have made it necessary to tailor the technical engineering aspects of the project to meet the needs of the community. In addition, CSX had to protect its operations on the busy rail corridor to continue fulfilling its core business of serving its freight customers.
This paper will provide the background about a major infrastructure project located in a highly sensitive, politically engaged area, the planning and methods implemented, the lessons learned and effective practices in community relations from an engineering perspective. From the Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project experience, (1) understanding the community, (2) being responsive to its concerns, and (3) using clear and simple communications were the basic premises and takeaways. Through the early development of the VAT project, during the NEPA process, and now during construction, these have been common themes that drive the ability to successfully complete a major infrastructure project within a highly sensitive, public environment. Mitigating these through a well-planned, focused community relations and communication plan that complements a good engineering plan, is key for a project’s success.