- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Residents in the D.C. area seem less concerned about another terrorist attack than they are about a new attack of street closings, ugly barriers and unnavigable detours. Recently, we awakened to yet another set of blinking signs warning trucks from 17th Street west of the White House between H Street and Constitution Avenue in Northwest Washington. The area near the White House was already the most congested in the District. North of the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue, the city's widest street and main downtown thoroughfare, is closed. South of the White House, E Street, widened after the Oklahoma City bombing to make the White House virtually invulnerable to attack from vehicles, was closed on September 11. Today, the White House, which is open only to school and certain organized groups, is a fortress guarded on all sides from the people.
The recent ban of truck traffic and strict "no parking" enforcement on 17th Street, with less than 24-hours notice, jolted the city. Residents despair at seeing the city dismembered into no-go zones. They wonder why our advanced, tech-smart society and government aren't smart enough to keep us safe without limits on ordinary access.
To their credit, White House and Secret Service officials had been in discussions with District officials before the recent changes. Although there was no emergency, however, the Secret Service announced its changes before discussions were completed. Happily, the White House was more civil and has assured me and D.C. officials that discussions to reduce the effects of congestion will continue.
Actually, talks bore some fruit. Most significantly, White House officials have agreed to a tunnel, long sought by the District to make up for the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue. Also under discussion is a city-wide Traffic Management System to move traffic citywide.
These are real steps that show White House sensitivity to how the District has been hurt by the Oklahoma City bombing and September 11, and how the city can be assisted. However, these proposals require funds to be put in the president's 2004 budget, and, even then, none will bring the immediate relief the city needs.
The effects of the tortuous traffic on tourists, residents, businesses and property values is reason enough for relief now. However, the congestion moved up to urgent last month when a U.S. Court of Appeals decision plunged the region into "severe violation" of the federal Clean Air Act.
Without significant action, this region will be barred from using federal transportation funds for construction. An already bad situation would get worse if money for roads and Metro were barred.
A major contribution to Clean Air Act violations in the District is the congestion around the White House caused by the closure of both Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street. For the foreseeable future, the most available and effective relief for traffic and for mitigation of air pollution is reopening E Street. After closing Pennsylvania Avenue, the Clinton administration agreed to major alternatives, including alterations and widening E Street to guarantee White House security. These changes had the oversight and approval of the Secret Service. E Street was opened to two-way traffic in November 2000 and remained open until September 11.
E Street is the only street in the District specifically redesigned to guard against a terrorist attack. A recent National Capital Planning Commission study, in which the Secret Service participated, recommended reopening E Street. Bipartisan opinion in Congress favors reopening.
D.C. Subcommittee Chair Connie Morella (Montgomery County Republican) and I have tried repeatedly to get this crossing reopened. E Street should not remain closed simply because the Secret Service wants a no-risk society. That is thinking more characteristic of our nation's authoritarian opponents.
The Secret Service wanted the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport closed permanently, but regional elected officials, the White House and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta all agreed that this was unthinkable. The police, like the armed forces, must always be subject to civilian authority, not the other way around.
We will soon observe September 11. However, mourning and remembrance is not a sufficient response to terrorism. September 11 is also a day to commemorate our freedom. I can think of two among many ways to assert confidence in our way of life. President Bush could announce his support of my pending Open Society With Security Act, which would establish a presidential commission to investigate ways to assure both openness and security. In addition, Mr. President, thank you for opening the White House to school groups. September 11 also would be a good day to reopen the White House to families with children.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, represents the District in Congress.

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