- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Every day since spring 1995, 29,000 motorists have been channeled away from the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW thanks to a presidential order from Bill Clinton on the heels of the Oklahoma City bombing. Since then, the vortex of democracy has seemed to retreat cautiously away from the people, growing ever more remote and widening the gulf between citizen and government. The latest thinking on the subject recycles an old proposal to build a tunnel underneath the avenue for vehicular traffic, with the possible concession of a pedestrian walkway above ground. Bad idea.
That the thoroughfare has been closed for six years is shameful enough. But for the interagency task force working under the National Capital Planning Commission to recommend anything short of the complete reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue is simply unacceptable.
A 1984 plan for the tunnel, in today's dollars, checks in at $70 million. While many see the tunnel as a compromise between security and traffic concerns, its drawbacks are too many to ignore. For one, with planners still in disagreement over the appropriate length, even the design is still in its embryonic stages. Between the time that would be consumed by further planning, the battle for funding, plus the actual construction, the tunnel proposal amounts to a recipe for interminable delay.
What's more is the aesthetic compromise a tunnel would impose. By closing the two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, from 15th to 17th Streets, access to a national treasure is forbidden. The White House is arguably the most significant icon of our democracy, yet we hide it as if we are ashamed. The residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a beautiful symbol of our freedom and deserves to be showcased.
The task force, after conducting a traffic evaluation, will present its findings before Congress this fall. Last Wednesday, however, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee unanimously urged President Bush to take down the barricades, as he and his party had intimated they intended to do during the 2000 presidential campaign. While the White House refrains from decisive comment, some legislators are hopeful that Mr. Bush will greenlight the reopening before the task force even releases its report.
While the pressure of $500,000 of lost revenue for area businesses and hopeless traffic and pollution nightmares looms large, Secret Service paranoia retains a disproportionate influence over the matter. This is not the land of razor wire and guard towers. Perestroika and glasnost have no English equivalents because they are the products of a culture from which we have always been blissfully immune. Let's keep it that way.

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