- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee yesterday unanimously approved a resolution that urges President Bush to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.
"This resolution expresses the sense of the House that the National Capital Planning Commission should adopt a plan which reopens Pennsylvania Avenue for the use of this city's residents while still protecting the individuals who work and live in the White House," Rep. Dan Burton, the committee's chairman, said yesterday.
"I have long supported the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue, and I think this resolution is an important step in that direction," the Indiana Republican said.
Senior House aides said they expect the resolution to easily pass the House before Congress begins its August recess, scheduled to begin the end of next week.
And Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting representative, yesterday told The Washington Times she anticipates the bill will pass by unanimous consent in the House and then be "held at the desk" and sent to the Senate, which she expects will approve it unanimously.
The east-west stretch of road that once was traveled by 29,000 vehicles each day was ordered closed by President Clinton in May 1995, a month after a truck bomb razed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 persons.
Mr. Clinton, to the chagrin of D.C. residents, commuters, and city and business leaders, had the street closed at the behest of the Secret Service. The Secret Service had been advocating the street's closure since 1950, when a would-be assassin tried to shoot President Truman, who was in front of Blair House across the street from the White House.
The resolution, which was taken up by the full committee, calls for Mr. Bush to adopt the NCPC's plan "that permanently returns Pennsylvania Avenue to the use of residents, commuters, and visitor's to the nation's capital," while maintaining security at the executive mansion.
White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said the issue is "still under review." The resolution, passed last month by the D.C. subcommittee on government reform, was introduced in April by Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican and chairman; Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican; and Mrs. Norton.
"The avenue ought to be reopened to vehicles, given its symbolic status as a link between Congress and the White House and its practical importance as a vital east-west artery in downtown D.C.," Mrs. Morella said in a statement.
Mr. Davis said the continued closure of "America's Main Street has cut the primary east-west link in the nation's capital, and the disruption created is enormous and continues to grow."
Not only are D.C. residents affected by the road being shut down, Mr. Davis said, so are thousands of commuters and tourists who "have been seriously impacted by an action" they "had no part in creating."
An NCPC interagency task force headed by Richard L. Friedman is looking into the possibility of reopening the 1,600-foot section of road and was to present its report to Mr. Bush and Congress by the end of this month. But the report has been delayed until fall so a detailed traffic analysis can be done.
At a March hearing before Mrs. Morella's subcommittee, lawmakers expressed support for a plan to reopen the avenue as presented last fall by the Rand Corp., and supported by the Federal City Council — a group of D.C. business and civic leaders. The resolution also backs that plan.
Regardless of which plan is chosen for reopening the avenue, it needs to be done soon, Mrs. Norton said.
"The inconvenience, the pollution, and the economic detriments have mounted because we are now in the sixth year of closure, and the closure was supposed to be temporary," Mrs. Norton said. "But temporary is going to be a lifetime, if we don't catch it and turn it around."
Businesses around the closed section of road say they lose about $500,000 a year in revenue. Side streets around the avenue have been turned into parking lots, clogged with traffic.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Bush said he would look at reopening the avenue to vehicular traffic, and a plank in the Republican Party platform also calls for its reopening.
Mrs. Norton and Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said the resolution shows Mr. Bush that he has the backing of Congress if he decides to reopen the street.
The resolution "will have the imprimatur of the Congress and that is a significant step in achieving the reopening" of the avenue, Mrs. Norton said, adding that a similar bill presented last year didn't get as far as the one passed yesterday.
Mr. Moran said he doesn't think Mr. Bush will even wait for the NCPC report, but instead will have agencies craft a plan allowing vehicle traffic on the street after he orders it reopened.
"I think the president will respond by reopening Pennsylvania Avenue. It makes him look like he is supportive of the District and has Congress for cover," Mr. Moran said. "He will do it right now and not wait."

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