- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, yesterday told a congressional panel that the Secret Service's closure of Pennsylvania Avenue creates traffic gridlock, causes economic and environmental damage and sends an image to the world that the American capital is a "city under siege."
"The present state of Pennsylvania Avenue … is an affront to our traditions of openness and accessibility," said Mrs. Morella, chairman of the subcommittee holding hearings on whether to reopen the avenue in front of the White House.
The hearings are part of a growing movement, abetted by President Bush's campaign promise to consider reopening the avenue and a plank in the Republican platform promising reopening, to tear down the barriers and open the street to traffic once more.
While Mrs. Morella and her colleagues on the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District are hearing testimony on the issue, another group, a task force formed by the National Capital Planning Commission, is expected to make a recommendation to Mr. Bush in July.
Richard L. Friedman, chairman of the commission and the task force, told Mrs. Morella's panel that his group is looking for ways to make federal security less intrusive in the District.
"The present situation, in my view, is intolerable," Mr. Friedman said.
The 1,600-foot stretch of "America's Main Street" as it runs past the White House was ordered closed in May 1995 by President Clinton on advice of the Secret Service in reaction to the truck-bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.
The concrete barricades, large planters, guard posts and other measures were considered temporary security improvements when they were put in place, Mrs. Morella said, but they have become permanent fixtures. The stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue often is used as a parking lot for Secret Service vehicles.
Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican nominee for president, said concerns about White House security are important, but so too are the concerns of D.C. residents and businesses who have seen their city cut in two by the road's closure.
More important, Mr. Dole told reporters during a recess, is that closing the avenue has "come to symbolize that we are giving into the fear of terrorism."
"You come to the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C., [and] you can drive by everything but the White House," Mr. Dole said.
Mr. Dole testified as president of the Federal City Council, an influential 170-member business and civic group that supports reopening the avenue.
The Secret Service, Mr. Dole said, should be able to strike a balance between security and openness. But Secret Service and other federal officials remained adamant in their determination to keep the avenue closed.
"Any plan that would permit vehicles within the currently established security perimeter will not protect the president and the White House complex," Secret Service Director Brian L. Stafford said. "I believe the original decision to close Pennsylvania Avenue six years ago was the correct action."
The avenue can be "beautified," Mr. Stafford said, but should remain closed.
Mrs. Morella, citing the skepticism of security experts quoted earlier this month by The Washington Times, asked Mr. Stafford and James F. Sloan, acting Treasury Department undersecretary for law enforcement, if there were any reopening scenario they could support.
"Is there anything that you will allow … other than just the beautification?" the Montgomery County Republican asked.
Both men said the avenue could be safely reopened if Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies had the technology available to minimize risks. But that technology does not yet exist, they said.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams testified that the avenue closure has cost the city millions of dollars.
"Commercial activity thrives in a connected environment," said Mr. Williams, a Democrat. "By closing Pennsylvania Avenue and disconnecting the city from its center we've experienced [an] untold financial impact on downtown business development."
Richard Monteilh, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said the closure disrupts travel for an estimated 29,000 motorists daily. The city has lost $2.7 million since the road's closure because of parking meter losses and expenses related to rerouting traffic and Metrobuses, he said.
Mrs. Morella's committee also focused on a reopening plan outlined in a Rand Corp. report funded by the Federal City Council that was made public last year.
Rand's plan calls for, among other things, a pedestrian bridge just high enough to prevent most trucks from using the road, limits on the hours vehicles can travel and redesign of the road to include an 60-foot curve a bend that has come to be known as the "Jefferson Bow."
The "Jefferson Bow" is named for President Thomas Jefferson, who first introduced the idea of moving the street away from the White House in 1802.
Rep. James P. Moran Jr., Virginia Democrat and a former member of the subcommittee, said it doesn't make sense to keep the avenue closed in light of the fact that attacks on the White House never have been made from a car or truck.
Mr. Moran said the closure hampered the District's emergency services by forcing ambulances and firetrucks to go around the closed section.
"We have allowed this threat to disrupt our way of life within the very heart of the nation's capital," Mr. Moran said.


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