- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Congressional security officials yesterday said they have no timetable for reopening streets around the Capitol — and that lack of a deadline is causing concern among city officials still smarting from the permanent closure of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.

“We’re prepared to go to the elections and maybe possibly the inauguration,” said U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford. “As of right now, it’s indefinite. They always want to keep the options open.”

A spokesman for Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Wilson “Bill” Livingood said there was “no telling how long the security measures will last” and added that further road closures could be instituted if intelligence warrants them.

Capitol Police closed First Street NE between Constitution Avenue and D Street after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the terror alert level to Code Orange at five financial institutions, including two D.C. targets.

Tony Bullock, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said the measures are reminiscent of actions taken by the Secret Service in 1995, when officers closed the portion of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. At the time, officials said the closure was temporary. It has since become permanent.

“We’re concerned that what they’re doing now is a prelude to permanent closures,” said Mr. Bullock. “It has all the makings of a warm-up act.”

Bill Rouchell, president of the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals, said he thought the security measures would have a detrimental effect on businesses and the real estate market in Capitol Hill.

“Every day it seems like another street is closed,” he said. “It’s going to have a real impact, if it hasn’t already.”

Mr. Rouchell said he was aware of an incident where Capitol Police swarmed over a portable storage unit left unattended in front of a home just blocks from the Capitol. He said that in another case a bomb-sniffing dog searching a furniture retailer’s truck destroyed two lampshades being delivered to a Capitol Hill apartment.

“That’s the kind of thing we have to deal with right now,” he said.

The onerous security measures around the Capitol were imposed last week in response to ongoing, but not specific, threats against the Capitol and members of Congress.

Former President Clinton ordered a two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House closed a month after the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At the time, the avenue handled 29,000 vehicles a day.

The Secret Service, which had been urging the road closure since the Truman presidency, recommended Pennsylvania Avenue remain closed because of the threat of a truck bomb like the one used in Oklahoma City.

A promise to reopen the avenue was included in the Republican platform on which George W. Bush ran for president. The administration hedged on the promise after the inaugural. After September 11, resistance to reopening the avenue stiffened.

The avenue remained “temporarily” closed until federal officials decided last year to close it permanently. A pedestrian walkway with security checkpoints and metal barricades incorporated into the design is scheduled to be completed later this year, but city officials remain hopeful the avenue could be reopened in the future.

Mr. Bullock said Mr. Williams plans to lobby Congress to roll back the 14 checkpoints around the Capitol and the partial closure of First Street NE.

Two congressional committees have oversight over Capitol Police. Only with their approval can police enact substantial security changes on the Hill, leaving them the sole check on Capitol Police.

Connecticut Democrat Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, the ranking Democrat on one of those committees, approved the increased security on the condition that the measures were temporary, said his spokesman, Marvin Fast.

“He fully expects these changes will and should be reviewed when Congress returns to see if they are still appropriate,” Mr. Fast said.

Staff members for other congressional leaders indicated yesterday that they trust the judgment of the Capitol Police. The department receives regular security briefings from the FBI, CIA and the Department of Homeland Security, a spokeswoman for the Senate sergeant-at-arms said.

Charles Hargrave, an advisory neighborhood commissioner on Capitol Hill, said he thought additional security measures around the Capitol were in order, but that city residents would pay the price.

“I think they will become permanent,” Mr. Hargrave said. “It concerns me. I think they are appropriate but the residents are going to be inconvenienced from now on.”

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