Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Construction will begin soon on landscaped vehicle-barrier walls to thwart terrorist attacks on the Washington Monument, the National Park Service said yesterday, but plans for a tunnel leading to the monument were put on hold.

“For security of the Washington Monument, a vehicle-barrier system has final approval,” said Vikki Keys, acting superintendent of the Park Service. “Work will soon go forward.”

But the National Coalition to Save Our Mall said the vehicle-barrier walls are unnecessary and ruinous to the scenic slopes that lead up to the monument.

“We understand the need for securities, but 9/11 gave the Park Service an opportunity to go ahead with their plan,” said coalition President Judy Scott Feldman. The September 11 attacks killed more than 3,000 at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania crash site.

Ms. Feldman said reworking the Mall, including an underground visitors center and tunnel to the Washington Monument, remains a “30-year-old project” of the Park Service.

The underground center-tunnel, first proposed 37 years ago, is not in the Park Service appropriations bill expected to be passed by Congress in a couple of weeks.

A tall wooden fence now surrounds the monument grounds, with occasional openings for pedestrians to enter.

The vehicle barriers, costing $15 million, will comprise three concentric landscaped circles, separated by stone or concrete walls about 24 inches high.

Earth-moving equipment will soon begin building the barriers, with completion expected in 14 to 18 months. The wooden walls will then be removed, Mrs. Keys said.

“The vehicle barriers will be more compatible for use of visitors,” she said.

But Mrs. Feldman said metal or stone ballards, narrow enough to prevent vehicle entry, would be less conspicuous and preserve the historic appearance of the entire Mall around the monument.

The ballards — like those planned for Pennsylvania Avenue NW in front of the White House — would effectively guard against bomb-carrying vehicles while allowing visitors to walk up to the monument, Ms. Feldman said.

Visitors now are checked and allowed entry aboveground into the base of the monument, where they board elevators for the ride to the top.

The underground center would require visitors to enter a tunnel nearly 100 yards from the monument. The tunnel would be lined with displays of historic projects, and be the only entry to the elevators.

The National Park Service has not yet requested funds for the underground visitors facility, according to Mrs. Keys, and the only funding for 2004 was for the vehicle barriers.

“The vehicle barriers will be a most effective security,” she said.

“We will re-evaluate what we are going to do with regards to an underground visitors center,” Mrs. Keys said. “Our mission is always to protect visitors.”

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