- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

A federal task force is leaning toward recommending a plan that would gradually reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House while maintaining increased security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, congressional sources said.

The National Capital Planning Commission interagency task force is expected to release its recommendations Oct. 10.

The task force is considering recommendations that include extending the White House's perimeter by widening Pennsylvania Avenue and moving Lafayette Square farther from the executive mansion, erecting circular barriers along the street to slow traffic and building a tunnel for vehicles beneath the road, congressional sources said.

The sources gave no time frame for when the road would reopen, saying it could take years before it is fully open to all vehicular traffic, except trucks.

The task force's chairman, Richard L. Friedman, would not comment directly on whether the 1,600-foot stretch of road will be reopened, but said the group is looking at a "matrix of plans" that would minimize traffic disruptions.

"The reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue is more of a traffic issue than a visual issue," said Mr. Friedman, adding that he expects the task force to come up with a "reasonable compromise" that balances security with "good urban planning."

More than 29,000 vehicles traveled along the east-west street each day before President Clinton closed it in May 1995, a month after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Mr. Friedman said the Parsons Transportation Group is finishing its traffic-impact study and that when the task force makes public its recommendations in October there will be a "preferred list" of ideas for improving aesthetics and security in the federal enclave and not recommend ideas regarding just Pennsylvania Avenue.

As for Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. Friedman said the task force is "interested in actually coming up with a solution that can be built with some certainty." He said that since the terrorists attacks, the task force which is also made up of representatives of the District, and the Interior and Defense departments, as well as the Secret Service has met twice.

"I think the attacks have had the impact in increasing our resolve as a people that our way of life should be maintained," he said.

Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin said his agency is willing to work with the task force to lessen the chance of "any potential threats we think exist."

"The closure of Pennsylvania Avenue was not intended to thwart such an attack such as those on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," said Mr. Mackin. "However, the closure was necessary to mitigate the threat presented by a vehicle laden with explosives. In our opinion, that threat still exists and this may be seen as more credible by others following the attacks."

Many of the city's streets were closed just after the attacks; near the White House, E Street between 15th and 17th streets NW remains closed.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, recently said Pennsylvania Avenue should be reopened, based on a Rand Corp. report. To resume traffic flow, the report calls for building a semicircular bend in the road to extend the White House's perimeter and a pedestrian bridge low enough to prevent trucks from passing.

Congressional sources said parts of the Rand plan will be included in the task force's recommendations.

"The day the president reopens Pennsylvania Avenue will be one for a victory over the terrorists," said Mr. Gingrich, adding that "having [the road closed] would not have done anything to stop an airplane from hitting the White House."

Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District, said she hopes Pennsylvania Avenue remains a priority and the Rand study is used as a model to reopen the road.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting member of Congress, said the Sept. 11 attacks have made reopening Pennsylvania Avenue less of a priority.

Mr. Moran, an outspoken critic of the road's closure, said he had his staff take the issue to his congressional Web site the day of the attacks and stressed the road should only be opened "as soon as we have sufficient security measures in place."

Mrs. Norton said momentum for reopening the road is lost, noting that a resolution calling for the road to open is stalled in the House.

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