- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

The National Capital Planning Commission is expected to take steps today to ensure the safety of the White House and Washington Monument, and to memorialize the 184 persons killed at the Pentagon on September 11.

The 12 commission members may spend most of their time on a proposal for 30-inch walls encircling the Washington Monument 400 feet from its base. The barriers would prevent cars or trucks laden with explosives from driving up to the monument.

The plan also calls for 800 shade and flowering trees and other plants to soften the landscape.

“The proposed landscape plan will create a welcoming and inviting environment,” said NCPC Executive Director Patti Gallagher, addressing complaints that barrier walls are ugly.

The proposal has been criticized by the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, which also objects to a competing proposal that would require visitors to enter the monument through a 500-foot tunnel.

“Why add barrier walls on the monument’s great open space, impeding pedestrians and possibly forcing the Park Service to deny permits for public gatherings anywhere near the monument?” coalition Chairman Judy Scott Feldman asked rhetorically.

Barrier walls near the streets and sidewalks would preserve the open space, just as they do around the Capitol and Library of Congress, Mrs. Feldman said.

Preliminary designs for the more controversial tunnel to the Washington Monument are being prepared and could be presented to the NCPC within a few months.

The tunnel plan would prevent terrorists from carrying explosives to the monument base where tourists now enter. Instead tourists would enter a 60-foot extension of the lodge east of the monument, where they would be screened before descending to a tunnel leading to the monument elevator.

Mrs. Feldman said the tunnel was first proposed in the 1970s but was rejected because it would be “oppressive and expensive.”

Now, she said, the National Park Service is using security concerns as a reason to build it.

In March, the commission approved the “concept” for scenically altering Pennsylvania Avenue — which has been closed to traffic in front of the White House since the bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995 — and other streets around the White House.

President Bush’s fiscal 2004 budget includes $15 million to complete improvements before the next presidential inaugural parade in January 2005.

Instead of the big concrete planters, Jersey barriers and makeshift guard huts now in place, Pennsylvania Avenue would be lined with elm trees and a light green, fluted and oval barrier that could be lowered to allow limousines and delivery trucks to enter. New security booths would be set to the sides.

The commission also will look at changing the roadway surface between the White House and Lafayette Park to a stabilized, durable crushed stone — like that in front of Buckingham Palace in London. The commission noted that that type of stone was used many years ago on the avenue.

The plan for 184 aluminum benches and pools that would be built as a victims’ memorial near the Pentagon has proceeded through the approval process without objection. Each bench and lighted pool would be engraved with the name of a person killed when a plane crashed into the building, ages 3 to 71 years. It is expected to be finished by Sept. 11, 2004.

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