Published in Washington, D.C.
5am -- April 2, 1998

E Street NW will be widened to ease snarl

By Walden Siew

The federal government will spend $1.5 million to broaden E Street NW near the White House in Washington to ease bottlenecks created when Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to vehicular traffic nearly three years ago. The Federal Highway Administration will spend the money to turn E Street, now a one-way street eastbound, into a two-way road by adding a lane and turning a parking lane into another lane by carving 12 feet from the street's south side. Deputy Transportation Secretary Mort Downey, Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth R. Wykle and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton will announce plans for a $500,000 study and $1million construction project today. The engineering and environmental impact study is expected to take 18 months to complete. Construction, between 15th and 18th streets, will begin after the study. "When Pennsylvania Avenue was taken, the congestion became unbearable," said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat. "This is going to very substantially relieve crosstown congestion." Mrs. Norton said she will continue her effort to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, authorities closed Pennsylvania Avenue on May 20, 1995, to protect the White House. That diverted about 26,000 cars a day to alternative routes -- E Street and Constitution Avenue bore the heaviest traffic -- worsening noise, congestion and pollution problems, critics say. "This is the first step forward. The route's been chosen," said a Federal Highway Administration official who asked not to be identified. "It will particularly help the evening rush hour on Constitution Avenue. It will just give people moving crosstown in the vicinity of the White House another relief valve that they don't have today," said Gary Burch, chief transportation engineer for the District. Republicans, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, have criticized the Clinton administration for closing Pennsylvania Avenue, and Mr. Gingrich has said the District has lost more than $1 million in business, tourism and parking meter fines. A Treasury Department report also found that Metro had to spend $314,000 annually to reroute 25 bus lines a total of 19,200 miles yearly. In addition, Metro spent $40,000 to put up new bus-stop signs and shelters on the altered routes. Tom Fioramonti, 53, a computer specialist with the federal government, has a 70-minute morning commute each day from his home in Aldie in Loudoun County. Traffic on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge is inevitably blocked, he said. "That bridge is always backed up and I guess a whole lot of that is due to the backup on E Street," he said, welcoming the widening plan. "Anything will help. On a bad day it takes forever." Today, Mrs. Norton and transportation officials also will demonstrate specially equipped vans to carry disabled riders through Pennsylvania Avenue. Tour buses and other traffic still won't be allowed.