- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

A federal interagency task force today will recommend keeping Pennsylvania Avenue closed to vehicles in front of the White House and studying the construction of a tunnel under the street, according to a draft copy of the recommendations.
The task force, which will make its recommendations to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) today, said it would reconsider its decision "if in the future, there are major positive changes in the security environment and/or risk detection technology."
The Washington Times has obtained a draft copy of the recommendations, which was being revised last night. Federal sources said no major changes to the recommendations were expected. Other recommendations include:
Allowing a circulator bus system, not large tour buses, to drive in front of the White House.
Reopening E Street NW alongside the White House. The road, which was widened within the past year, has been closed since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Preparing "an integrated Urban Design and Security Plan" for the District within the next six months to include permanent security and street improvements that are aesthetically pleasing.
Beautifying the closed portion of Pennsylvania Avenue "that respects and enhances the historic setting and views of the White House," but does not include growing grass or building over the street.
The NCPC is expected to approve the recommendations, then forward them to Congress and President Bush, who would have final approval of the items on Pennsylvania Avenue before they could be implemented.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative, had been briefed on the task force's findings. She was not surprised by the report. "I don't think anybody expected them to say [reopen the road] after September 11," Mrs. Norton said.
Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican and chairwoman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District, said she still hopes the road can reopen.
"We always have to be careful that we don't have Fort Washington," said Mrs. Morella, who had read the task force's report. "We don't need everything barricaded."
David Marin, spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, said he had not yet seen the details of the recommendations, but Mr. Davis would likely offer a "qualified endorsement."
"Obviously, in an ideal world, we'd like to see 'America's Main Street' once again open to normal city traffic," Mr. Marin said. "But Davis applauds the task force's recognition of the very real security concerns. Their recommendations for improved landscaping, a tourist friendly circulator and traffic flow enhancements are good ones."
Heeding the advice of the Secret Service, President Clinton closed the 1,600-foot stretch of the roadway after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 persons.
Before Pennsylvania Avenue was closed, more than 30,000 vehicles a day flowed along the major east-west thoroughfare.
Nearby streets now are clogged with traffic.
Businesses in the area have suffered heavy financial losses.
At Mr. Bush's direction, the NCPC formed the task force in March to study reopening the street and to make recommendations. The task force includes officials in the federal and D.C. governments, and is headed by former NCPC Director Richard L. Friedman.
Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin yesterday said the task force's "recommendation to keep the avenue closed is consistent with this service's long-held security concerns, and also provides for beautification and greater access to the avenue."
The task force said the federal government should foot the bill for a study on building a tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue. Creating a tunnel would cost about $150 million and take about five years to design and construct, the task force estimated.
Mr. Marin said Mr. Davis "hopes the studies of the tunnel option get under way as soon as possible."
Federal law-enforcement officials said the task force's recommendation for a circulator bus system in front of the White House would "still be cumbersome to sweep." But the smaller circulator buses would be easier to handle than the large tour buses that ferry a good portion of the 25 million tourists who come to the District each year.
Federal security officials said they hope the circulator system would only carry handicapped or elderly persons who could not walk in front of the White House.
Mrs. Norton said the most immediate needs now are to reopen E Street, perform a traffic-management study and begin looking at installing the circulator system. The tunnel option needs to be studied so that the tunnel does not disrupt the L'Enfant design of the city or "cause more problems than it would cure," she said.
The task force was to have released its findings at last month's NCPC meeting.
Sources said the group's members "were still reeling from September 11" and were "shocked" into placing security concerns over the symbolism of the road's closure.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said she understands security concerns mandating the road's continued closure.
"I would certainly prefer for Pennsylvania Avenue to be reopened," Mrs. Schwartz said. "But given today's climate, I think that this is the best we can do."


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