- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

The National Capital Planning Commission yesterday advanced plans for landscaping the closed space on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, constructing a guard rail around the Washington Monument and building memorial benches for the 184 victims of the attack on the Pentagon.

There was no objection to the memorial benches at the Pentagon, but a professional engineer said the White House and Washington Monument proposals are unnecessary and extravagant.

Pennsylvania Avenue NW did not need to be closed between 15th and 17th streets because the White House is protected by a steel and concrete fence, and with its specially designed protective windows could not be damaged by a car exploding on the avenue, said Robert Hershey, president of the D.C. Society of Professional Engineers.

“We have a great overreaction to security,” Mr. Hershey said. “A bunch of money has been thrown at security.”

Mr. Hershey described the Washington Monument as “the safest place in town,” explaining that its walls are 15 feet thick, compared with the 2-foot walls of the Pentagon, where 184 persons, ages 3 to 71, died when it was hit by a hijacked airliner September 11.

The proposed 30-inch barrier wall with adjoining sidewalk in a circle 400 feet from the monument would interfere with visitors to the Mall and, along with other landscaping plans, violates the Commemorative Works Act signed in 1986 by President Reagan, said Judy Scott Feldman, chairman of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall.

The barrier wall ostensibly would block bomb-carrying vehicles from driving into the monument.

No one publicly opposed plans to plant 800 shade and flowering trees on the monument grounds.

Although the commission was not considering other plans, four speakers protested a security proposal to build a 60-foot entrance building east of the Washington Monument that would lead tourists to a 500-foot tunnel before reaching the elevators to take them to the top.

“I feel it is unacceptable that for the rest of the history of this country, its people will have to go underground to feel secure,” said Dorothy Miller, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 1.

“A tunnel is just ridiculous,” said Don Hawkins, officer of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.

The plans approved by the commission yesterday include nothing about openings from the tunnel for escape to the surface of the Mall, which certainly would affect the landscape, Mrs. Feldman said.

Mr. Hershey called the tunnel “a crypt,” where a suicidal terrorist could collect tourists as victims for his mission.

After only a few questions, the commission readily approved plans for Pennsylvania Avenue, including solid, decorative poles called bollards to keep vehicles away from the White House. American Elms would line the avenue. Security booths also would blend with the decor of nearby Lafayette Park, Riggs Bank, an art museum and adjacent streets — Madison Place and Jackson Place.

Commissioner Michael S. McGill expressed concern about football field-sized granite sections at each end of the closed-off part of Pennsylvania Avenue, and wanted assurances that the granite would be dull or shaded, not shiny.

The Pennsylvania Avenue project will cost $15 million and is to be completed before the next presidential inaugural parade in January 2005.

The panel adopted the measure unanimously. The next step is refining the designs, which could come up for consideration as early as September.

Commissioners asked few questions, but hinted that there were no objections to the memorial next to the Pentagon. The plan calls for 184 curved benches, each with the name and age of a victim, over a lighted reflecting pool. Those memorials are expected to be completed by 2004, the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

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