- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

The Bush administration yesterday designated $5 million to study how a tunnel near the White House would affect traffic.

President Bush earmarked the money in the 2003 budget for the Federal Highway Administration to study the feasibility of constructing a tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House or under E Street behind the White House.

An additional $6 million will be used to create a pedestrian plaza adjacent to Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. That plan was recommended by the National Capital Planning Commission.

The planning commission's Interagency Security Task Force, which has studied the feasibility of reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, said in June that digging a tunnel under the avenue would be problematic and appeared to be an unlikely solution.

"What we looked at in the November 2001 study was a traffic analysis, and we ultimately concluded a more detailed study was needed," said Bill Dowd, project implementation division director for the planning commission.

He said tunnel construction at that time seemed physically possible, but would be hampered by the Metro's Red Line tunnel under Lafayette Square.

"And there was no information about moving utilities and other measures," Mr. Dowd said.

The National Capital Planning Commission is the federal government's central planning agency in the District and provides guidance for federal land and buildings in the region.

The commission's task force, which is composed of representatives of different city and federal agencies, has estimated that construction costs range from $55 million for a short tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue to $135 million for one under E Street.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton yesterday said she will reserve judgment on a tunnel until she receives assurance that its construction won't disrupt an already congested downtown.

The District has long sought a solution for easing traffic after the closings of Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street. Mrs. Norton said the tunnel option is too far off and that the District has more immediate traffic needs.

"The most important aspect of the study is it will look at the impact the closures have had on traffic," said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting representative in Congress.

"When they see what it has done to traffic, they will have no choice but to open [E Street] up."

Mr. Bush closed E Street behind the White House after the September 11 terrorist attacks. President Clinton closed Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. At the time, the avenue handled 29,000 vehicles a day.

Administration and city officials are discussing how to develop a citywide Traffic Management System, Mrs. Norton said, adding that she was thrilled to hear the District would not have to contribute funds for construction of a tunnel.

"I have received assurances from the highest levels at the White House that they are prepared to pay all costs for the tunnel if it proves feasible," she said.

The planning commission has been busy this summer developing plans to increase security in the city while maintaining the District's aesthetic appeal.

The administration has accepted the design of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of New York to create a pedestrian mall in front of the White House. The design would rid the area of ugly security obstructions, such as jersey walls and makeshift guard booths.

The planning commission's task force chose the Valkenburgh design because its security measures allow for easy removal should the Secret Service deem Pennsylvania Avenue safe to reopen to vehicular traffic, officials said.

In July, the planning commission approved the National Capital Urban Design and Security Plan and released it for a 60-day public comment period.

The urban design plan identifies permanent security and street-scape improvements for federal facilities and key areas and streets in the District. The $800 million plan details recommendations to maintain heightened security in Washington's "monumental core" while improving the look of the city.

For example, jersey barriers and other makeshift security measures that cropped up after September 11 would be replaced by stone bollards thick cone-shaped posts reinforced benches, bus stops and other normal street-side accessories.

The planning commission already has received input on the plan, and it heard testimony from residents during a Sept. 4 meeting. Those comments will be considered in its final revision.

The commission will consider the final plan during an Oct. 3 meeting, after which it will forward the plan for White House approval.

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