- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

The National Capital Planning Commission yesterday approved a preliminary security plan that includes the construction of a 400-foot-long tunnel that visitors would use to enter the Washington Monument.The commission approved the plan by a 10-2 vote. Under the plan, the visitors’ lodge east of the monument on 15th Street will be expanded, turning the building into a gateway to the tunnel. The neoclassical addition will more than double the lodge’s size. The design features marble columns and a glass roof. It was chosen over a larger, more contemporary glass-and-steel structure.The National Park Service proposed the plan, and D.C.-based Hartman-Cox Architects designed the tunnel and the glass pavilion.Supporters of the plan said it offered the best balance between security and aesthetic concerns.But citizens’ groups criticized the plan, saying the new design makes the site vulnerable to terrorist attacks and less accessible to visitors. Most objected to the tunnel, which would usher people from the visitors’ center up to the monument.”Would you rather enter the monument 500 feet away, through a tunnel as long as the monument is high?” asked Judy Feldman of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. “Or would you prefer walking up to the monument and entering through the front door, as people have for decades?”Robert Hershey of the D.C. Society of Professional Engineers said the tunnel makes the site more vulnerable to terrorists strapped with explosives that could detonate in the crowded concourse. “Then we have a security problem where we didn’t have one,” he said.Sally Blumenthal, deputy associate regional director of the National Park Service, said terrorists are interested in “spectacular attacks on recognizable international landmarks.” She said an underground concourse “is not the same target of opportunity that the icon is.”The tunnel will have walls that can withstand bomb blasts, she said, and U.S. Park Police officers will patrol the monument. “We have a series of measures that would not allow anybody to just storm through the concourse,” she said.Commissioners Pat Elwood and Rob Miller opposed the tunnel plan. “A tunnel is not the way to approach a monument,” Mr. Elwood said. “I want to protect the monument. We don’t have to dig into the ground.”Security screening would be done at the visitors’ center, regardless of whether tourists plan to buy tickets, visit the monument or simply use the restrooms.”We think this method is ill-advised,” said tour guide Arleen Levy. Guides picking up group tickets in advance would have to go through screening each time they enter the building.Commissioner John G. Parsons said the tunnel was the best of four concepts considered by the panel. Other proposals were a shuttle service to the monument, an above-ground concourse flanked by glass walls leading to the landmark and a structure at the base of the monument.Mr. Parsons said he could not estimate the cost of the tunnel project.Terrorism threats have forced federal officials to revise security plans for the nation’s tourist attractions without affecting visitors and the character of the historic landmarks.Plans are under way to install walls in place of the barriers that block vehicular traffic at the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Last year, the commission approved a design for a pedestrian thoroughfare along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to block vehicular traffic. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, both Democrats, oppose a permanent shutdown of that section.The commission did not set a date for a final vote on the tunnel plan. It will meet June 5 to review and possibly vote on a final plan to replace the barriers with other types of walls to surround the monument.


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