Monday, September 8, 2003

Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Anthony A. Williams met yesterday with Laura Bush to celebrate plans to beautify Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, but the District’s top two officials also took advantage of the time with the first lady to lobby for the reopening of the avenue — and E Street behind the mansion — to vehicular traffic.

The National Capital Planning Commission last week approved funding to remove the temporary concrete jersey walls and makeshift checkpoints on the avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW. But while the beautification plans were welcomed by Mrs. Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, and Mr. Williams, both Democrats say it’s not enough.

“I support the Pennsylvania Avenue beautification project because it has been done carefully, with a view toward the eventual reopening of the avenue to vehicular traffic,” Mrs. Norton said.

Mrs. Norton and Mr. Williams met with Mrs. Bush in a press conference held in the East Room of the White House. The event was also attended by Elizabeth Moynihan, the widow of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Democrat.

The Washington Times reported last week that the 12-member Planning Commission, after eight years of study and debate, approved a plan to replace concrete barriers with removable, more decorative stone bollards and metal posts. The two streets, which were closed to vehicular traffic due to security concerns after the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, will remain pedestrian walkways for now.

Mr. Williams and Mrs. Norton said the beautification efforts will spur tourism and thanked the president and first lady for reopening the White House to public tours this week.

The beautification effort also calls for the planting of new trees and construction of a circulator — a light-rail tram that travels a closed loop — that will allow people to ride between 15th and 17th streets.

But in a private meeting before the event, the two “emphatically” stated their displeasure with the ongoing closure of E Street. Both officials partly blame the closures for rush-hour congestion.

“We have accepted the fact — but we haven’t given up the fight — that Pennsylvania Avenue will be closed indefinitely,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams. “But in the interim, E Street must be reopened.”

Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House has been closed since April 20, 1995, the day after the Oklahoma City bombing. E Street behind the mansion has been closed for all but a few months during that time.

Mrs. Norton persuaded the Clinton White House to have E Street widened and altered to receive two-way traffic without endangering the White House complex. The east-west throughway was reopened in early 2001, but was reclosed after September 11.

“All they are doing there is checking the underbelly of cars entering the White House and using the magnetometer on people coming in,” Mr. Bullock said.

He said E Street is a public road and not a “personal garage” for the Secret Service.

“They have to find a way to do that without closing the entire street,” Mr. Bullock said.

After the ceremony, Mrs. Norton spoke with a Secret Service official and pressed him to support the reopening of E Street. She said she expects to meet soon with the Secret Service concerning the issue.

D.C. officials said they have noticed the administration is more receptive to plans to return the District — and its streets — to a more normal status.

“I am gratified that as we get further from 9/11, action is increasing to return the nation’s capital to an open city that is as inviting to visitors as it is well protected from terrorists,” Mrs. Norton said.

Mrs. Norton is seeking to revise language she has had placed in the Interior Department appropriations bill since 1996 barring funding for any renovations to the closed portion of Pennsylvania Avenue without congressional approval.

She wrote the language after the National Park Service proposed that Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House be turned into a grassy park.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide