- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton yesterday said she plans to send staffers to vehicle checkpoints around Capitol Hill this morning to determine the effect that U.S. Capitol Police screeners and road closures are having on traffic.

“We are going to dispatch staff to the checkpoints and First Street [NE] so that we can see for ourselves exactly what’s happening,” Mrs. Norton said.

The day after Labor Day is nicknamed “Traffic Tuesday” because traffic usually snarls as commuters return to work from summer vacations and schools reopen.

But Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, said the full effect of the 14 vehicle checkpoints and the closure of First Street could not be gauged until today, when Congress holds full sessions.

Capitol Police instituted the vehicle checkpoints and closed First Street between Constitution Avenue and D Street NE last month in response to ongoing, but not specific, threats against the Capitol and members of Congress.

Delays at Capitol Hill checkpoints were minimal yesterday, said Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford, a Capitol Police spokeswoman.

“It was fairly smooth,” she said. “We were expecting major delays, but we didn’t see that at all.”

Mrs. Norton said she aims to persuade federal authorities to alter the checkpoints by concentrating on larger vehicles such as trucks, limousines and sport utility vehicles, and waving through smaller passenger cars. She said she would consent to checkpoints on First Street if it is reopened.

“You cannot get comfortable, particularly with a street closing, because it will be there forever,” she said. “We can’t let First Street become another Pennsylvania Avenue.”

In 1995, the Secret Service closed Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House after the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. At the time, officials said the closure was temporary; it has since become permanent.

Mrs. Norton said she was “alarmed” by a report showing that commuters in the metropolitan area spent an average of 67 hours in 2002 in traffic jams.

The Texas Transportation Institute yesterday released its annual Urban Mobility Report, which ranks the metropolitan area third in the nation for the amount of time commuters spend in traffic.

The institute, part of Texas A&M; University, said Los Angeles commuters spent the most time in traffic in 2002, an average of 93 hours. Commuters in the San Francisco-Oakland area were second, having spent an average of 73 hours in traffic.

The figures for the Washington area — the highest for any East Coast city — are trending upward, according to the report. Commuters spent an average of 21 hours in congested traffic in 1982 and 48 hours in delays in 1992.

That 46-hour increase in the past 20 years ties the Washington area with Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana for having the second-highest increase. Only the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington region in Texas had a greater increase — 48 hours annually through 2002.

“That’s before anyone even used the vehicle checkpoints,” Mrs. Norton said.

Sgt. Sellers-Ford said there were no firm plans to scale back security, adding that the checkpoints could be in place through Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. “We’re constantly re-evaluating our security measures,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security heightened the terror alert level to Code Orange on Aug. 2 on specific sites after intelligence indicated that five financial institutions, including two in the District, could be terrorist targets.

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