- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House reopened yesterday as a bollard-studded, vehicle-proofed sidewalk — and First Street near the U.S. Capitol is next, a top law-enforcement official said.

The two-block-long section of Pennsylvania — closed since January for a security makeover — reopened to pedestrians at about 11 a.m. after a ceremony attended by first lady Laura Bush and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a longtime critic of the closure.

Mr. Williams praised the redesigned avenue, but he said the debate over the roadway was symbolic of the national struggle to balance security and openness.

“It’s my hope that someday we’ll reopen this portion of Pennsylvania Avenue to all vehicle traffic,” he said.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who did not attend the ceremony, noted that the new security measures are “reversible.” She vowed to continue the fight to reopen the street to vehicles to relieve crosstown traffic in the car-clogged District.

“We will never give up,” said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting congressional representative.

Meanwhile, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said yesterday that he expects that another D.C. street closed in the wake of terrorism concerns — First Street NE between Constitution Avenue and D Street — will not reopen to vehicle traffic.

“First Street, based on the intelligence … I anticipate will stay closed,” Chief Gainer said.

The street, which runs between the Russell and Dirksen Senate office buildings, was closed indefinitely in August when the Department of Homeland Security raised the threat level for the District to Code Orange. The increased threat level was based on intelligence that terrorists might be targeting five financial institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Northwest.

Chief Gainer has said he expected to close First Street even before the threat level was raised, because of concerns that an explosive device could be detonated from a vehicle passing between the buildings.

Mrs. Norton said she was told, but not consulted, about plans to close the street permanently. She said it was consistent with other security measures, which “gradually work their way from temporary to permanent.”

“We’re fighting an uphill battle,” Mrs. Norton said. “We do not need to see any more permanent closings in the District of Columbia.”

She said that closing roads was a “19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem” and criticized federal law-enforcement officials who she thinks should be able to keep the city both safe and open.

Chief Gainer said that in his professional opinion, the closures were the best way to avoid a catastrophe.

“I respect everybody’s opinion. I think that’s how you get a better product,” he said. “But law enforcement is not necessarily democratic.”

Chief Gainer said police also are evaluating the effectiveness of 14 temporary vehicle checkpoints that were put in place around the Capitol at the same time that First Street was closed. He said there are no plans to remove the checkpoints.

“We said that we would take a very hard look at that after the election, and we are in the process of doing that,” he said. “The checkpoints help change our look and our posture, and that’s very important to thwarting terrorism.”

The new Pennsylvania Avenue pedestrian mall, stretching between 15th and 17th streets NW, features rustic-looking pavement and decorative security bollards, some of which can retract into the street to allow vehicle access when necessary. The retractable bollards preserve the possibility that the road could be reopened in the future, should security needs change.

The avenue, known as “America’s Main Street,” was ordered closed to vehicles by President Clinton in 1995 after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

An average of 29,000 vehicles traveled on Pennsylvania Avenue each day before the two-block section was closed.

Eventually, the street will be lined with about 100 Princeton American Elms that will mature when planted in the spring after the inauguration. Security booths will be in place at each end of the avenue and are scheduled to be finished later this month. Pedestrian benches also will be installed.

• Tarron Lively contributed to this report.

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