Greater Greater Washington

Ask GGW: What's this Alexandria mystery tunnel?

Reader Nacim encountered a strange pedestrian tunnel in Alexandria, under the railroad tracks near the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station.


The tunnel in question. Photo by Narcim.

He writes:

I had to walk to a strip mall in Alexandria to take care of some bureaucratic errands. Google told me this was the most direct path.

I was skeptical of it so only took that route on my way back (went from King St at first) and here's what the inside looks like.

I wasn't trespassing or anything; you can tell that the entrances on either side make it look at least like an "official" passage. The sidewalks on either side are well maintained and don't peter out before this tunnel, and there are well-built stairs leading to it. As you can see from the Google map links, this tunnel is the most direct route to cross the railroad tracks.

Admittedly, it was kind of cool navigating those platforms.

According to contributor Chris Slatt, the tunnel is indeed a real pedestrian passage, currently maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Slatt says the tunnel was supposed to be decommissioned when VDOT rebuilt Telegraph Road. This project included a new sidewalk over the train tracks that also provides a path for pedestrians.

But VDOT has apparently changed its mind or hasn't gotten around to closing it yet, because the tunnel is still open. It's not always the best or most attractive option when walking (nor is it easy to navigate if you have a disability).

It is still a good shortcut that requires fewer at-grade crossings for many people compared to Telegraph Road. Jonathon Krall, another contributor and a member of Alexandria's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, contacted VDOT to ask whether the agency has decided to keep it open or when it will go away. So far we haven't received a response.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Falls Church.  

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I'd love a GGW post or series on weird or failed pedestrian tunnels or bridges. The one under Route 1 on 23rd St in Crystal City is a good example of a failed one.

by CBD on Jun 12, 2014 1:40 pm • linkreport

once upon a time VA installed those as pedestrian options. current policy prohibits them (VDOT basically won't even consider new tunnels) and will simply route people to a three-crosswalk intersection instead. the tunnels have some valid safety and accessibility concerns, but they also at least showed some concern for helping people cross busy streets.

by Mike on Jun 12, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

The tunnel had been closed for a year or so and was reopened last winter, I believe. Whether it is to be closed permanently, I do not know.

There is an interesting story about the on-ramps onto Telegraph on the Duke Street side of the tunnel. In the groves of trees between the ramps, there is a large homeless encampment which the City will have to tear down. I learned from the police presentation I attended on the topic that it is a multi room structure. The police also said that they'd need to bring in heavy equipment such as a Front Loader or a Bobcat to help tear it down.

by CyclistinAlexandria on Jun 12, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

Yes, it was closed for a long time while they were replacing/repairing the bridge overhead. Then it was reopened, but since I only drive past it, I never knew what the inside looked like. Don't know if I would recommend anyone to use that path ... and I could never figure out where someone on foot would be going when they used it anyway.

by Thad on Jun 12, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

Where exactly does it come out on the other side (i.e. not on Mills Rd)?

by JDC on Jun 12, 2014 3:09 pm • linkreport

JDC: Approximately here.

A bit of history: this pedestrian tunnel is in the same general location as the original Telegraph Rd tunnel underneath the CSX tracks, before the Beltway was constructed in the early 1960s.

by Froggie on Jun 12, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

The subject tunnel is a great way to get from Duke street to the Hoffman movie theater by foot. I also see runners using it regularly.

by Patrick on Jun 12, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

There is another tunnel exactly like this where the Holmes Run trail passes under 395.

by Uriel on Jun 12, 2014 4:26 pm • linkreport

I was sure this was going to be about the tunnel in Old Town under Wilkes St, but apparently there is another odd tunnel in Alexandria. Anyone happen to know if there's a "story" behind the Wilkes St/Windmill Hill Park tunnel also?

by ontarioroader on Jun 12, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

Wilkes street dates back to the civil war.

http://dclawyeronthecivilwar.blogspot.com/2011/08/railroad-related-site-in-old-town.html

by drumz on Jun 12, 2014 4:44 pm • linkreport

I'm a boy

by Nacim on Jun 12, 2014 8:33 pm • linkreport

Definitely have used this tunnel and remember how sketchy it was, but it saved me a lot of time by not going over telegraph road.

by Michael on Jun 13, 2014 8:50 am • linkreport

The Holmes run tunnel under 395 is considerably bigger than this one is; I've rode my bike through both of them.

by Jon on Jun 13, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

Ah, the Holmes Run tunnel. Or as I like to call it the Holmes Rape tunnel. That would always be my turn around point on my daily walks when I lived in that area since that tunnel is so pedestrian un-friendly and potentially dangerous (particularly if you're female or older) that going through it wasn't a option.

by efroh on Jun 16, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

This posting got the attention of VDOT and of Alexandria city staff. I am told that the tunnel is now in Alexandria's hands and that they will look into improving its condition.

by Jonathan Krall on Jun 17, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

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