- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

A new task force of local and federal officials will study the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House for four months, and then make a recommendation to President Bush.

The panel, which includes representatives from the Bush administration, Congress and the District, will work with the Secret Service and the FBI to review security at other federal sites throughout the area as well.

Richard L. Friedman, chairman of the task force, said the panel, which was scheduled to hold its first meeting today, will look at ways to make federal security less intrusive.

"It's to see if we can build a consensus to a long-term solution," said Mr. Friedman, who is also chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission, which reviews the design and planning of federal monuments and buildings. "I think we are doing a service for the White House and the city and the country."

Former President Bill Clinton, citing security concerns, closed Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing. The decision to close one of the city's most vital east-west thoroughfares has been criticized since by residents, businesses and city leaders.

Mr. Bush said during the campaign that he would consider reopening the busy street, and a promise to reopen the avenue was a plank in the Republican Party platform.

Members of the task force include Mr. Friedman, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, acting General Services Administration Administrator Thurman Davis, and Margaret Vanderhye, who was appointed by Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Friedman said he wants everyone involved in the discussion to "come to the table with an open mind" and not beforehand say "we are going to open Pennsylvania Avenue."

Growing public sentiment for reopening the avenue is resisted by the Secret Service. "Our position hasn't changed," Secret Service spokesman Agent Jim Mackin said.

Several members of the task force, reflecting public sentiment, have strong feelings about reopening the street.

"I think that it is the People's House and the citizens' street and should be open while still taking into consideration the safety and security of the White House," Mrs. Cropp says.

Businesses along the closed portion of the road have complained they lose about $500,000 a year because of reduced visibility, and Mrs. Cropp said keeping the street blocked off "just creates a tremendous traffic problem."

"It is separating just cutting Washington, D.C., apart. It's dividing us," she says.

In addition to revisiting several plans that have developed over the years for Pennsylvania Avenue, the task force will look at ways to improve traffic around federal sites and minimize the impact of security measures.

"To me it's almost undemocratic for the city to look like … for security to be so obvious," Mr. Friedman says. "If just security people made decisions they'd probably put a moat around the city, right? They have their job and I respect them for that. I don't want to see anything bad happen."

Heavy concrete barriers like those surrounding the Washington Monument, Mr. Friedman says, send the wrong signal to visitors.

"That to me is giving a message to a schoolchild who comes in from Des Moines that Washington isn't a safe place," Mr. Friedman says.

A supporter of opening the street, Rep. Joe Knollenberg, Michigan Republican and the new chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, says he welcomes the dialogue surrounding the issue.

"This is a good first step," Mr. Knollenberg says.

David Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and vice-chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District, say members of the group must balance security interests with the desire to reopen "America's Main Street."

"A careful study can help us find the most prudent way to serve both the public interest and presidential security," Mr. Marin says.

A spokesman for the chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, says the task force's efforts jibe with Mrs. Morella's plan to have hearings on the matter later this month.

"We want to get everything on the table. It's been six years and it's time to re-examine everything," Robert White says. He notes that while Mrs. Morella and other members of Congress may want Pennsylvania Avenue open, it's not their decision it's Mr. Bush's.

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