- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) yesterday unanimously approved a task force's recommendations to keep Pennsylvania Avenue closed to vehicles in front of the White House and to spend more than $98 million on permanent security and street improvements.

The NCPC's interagency task force of federal and D.C. officials presented its plan yesterday and recommended that a $26 million circulator transit system be set up so that tourists can be driven by the White House.

The task force also recommended $1.5 million for the study of a tunnel under the closed portion of Pennsylvania Avenue or under E Street NW beside the White House, which was closed after the September 11 terrorists attacks.

Task force chairman Richard L. Friedman said the closed section of Pennsylvania Avenue would become more pedestrian friendly and aesthetically pleasing under the plan.

"It is the most important view in the world," Mr. Friedman said.

About $65 million is being requested for those improvements, which would stretch along the avenue from Third to 17th streets. The federal government is being requested to pay for implementing the NCPC plan, which must be approved by Congress and President Bush.

Federal memorials such as the Washington Monument, which is ringed by jersey barriers, also would be beautified and made safer under the plan, the task force said.

Mr. Friedman said the jersey walls that have popped up around federal buildings across the city are not just "ugly" but "can become a missile" if there is an explosion. He said more security could be provided if in-ground bollards and raised planters were installed.

The option of a tunnel is not much of an option at all, Mr. Friedman said, because a major artery of the city was "cut off" when the street was closed and the east-west thoroughfare was severed.

President Clinton ordered the 1,600-foot portion of the avenue closed after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 persons.

According to the task force's traffic analysis, an average of 2,000 vehicles traveled on Pennsylvania Avenue each hour before the two-block section of road was closed.

The task force has put forward four options for constructing tunnels of varying length underneath Pennsylvania Avenue to allow traffic to resume in front of the White House while maintaining heightened security. The tunnels would likely be built above the Metro subway tunnel there and would allow 1,361 to 1,989 vehicles to pass each hour.

The panel also put forward an option for an E Street tunnel, which would have about 1,600 cars flow through it every hour if Pennsylvania Avenue were to reopen as well.

Construction costs for the tunnel options range from $55 million for a short tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue to $135 million for one under E Street.

As part of its plan, the task force also recommended $1 million for traffic systems management improvements such as traffic signal synchronization, intersection improvements and better signs.

The NCPC called for the two-way E Street to be reopened. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat and task force member, said the continued closure of E Street is unnecessary.

"I'm not quite sure how the [White House] safety zone includes E Street," Mr. Williams said.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said the tunnel option deserves "serious, serious consideration" because the avenue's closure has forced 29,000 vehicles to smaller side streets that are constantly clogged.

E Street's closure, which the Secret Service has said is needed for security as an "interim" measure, has forced another 11,000 vehicles to side streets.

The task force called for its Urban Design and Security Plan to be completed within six months and for all of its recommendations to be implemented within five years.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting congressional representative, said she applauds the task force's work but would like to see some of its recommendations put on the fast track.

E Street needs to be open by Monday and the circulator system should be in place by Christmas, Mrs. Norton said, so that city residents, commuters and some of the 25 million tourists who visit the District each year can have more access to "their White House."

Federal law enforcement sources said E Street would not be reopened anytime soon and the circulator transit system would not be in place soon either.

The circulator system would be used by handicapped and elderly persons, not average tourists, they said.

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