Security Fears Spur Pennsylvania Ave, Closing

By Stephen C. Fehr and Ann Devroy
Washington Post Staff Writers

The section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House will be closed to vehicles starting today, according to D.C. government and Metro officials who were briefed by the Secret Service.

In one of the most far-reaching steps taken in Washington out of concern for presidential security, the broad, historic avenue was to be closed between 15th and 17th streets NW beginning at 6 a.m., officials said.

The move follows a series of security breaches at the White House and the deadly bombing last month of a federal building in Oklahoma City.

Closing the street in front of the White House will prevent tourists and residents from driving past the president's front door, one of Washington's major attractions. It also will block one of the major east-west traffic arteries in downtown, threatening to cause massive traffic problems.

City government sources said public works officials met late yesterday to develop a preliminary plan to reroute traffic. An estimated 13,000 cars pass the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue each weekday.

The city had been working on such a plan since an advisory committee studying White House security recommended this month that part of the street be closed, according to two District government sources familiar with the plans who did not want to be identified.

"We have a plan to deal with it that hopefully won't lead to mass chaos," one of the sources said.

Drivers and traffic specialists have predicted increased congestion on downtown streets because of the closing, especially on nearby streets such as H, I and K that officials expect to carry the spillover traffic.

Fady P Bassily, Metro's deputy general manager for rail and bus operations, said last night that the Secret Service notified the regional transit agency of its decision late yesterday but that Metro officials already had begun developing plans to reroute buses.

Ten Metrobus routes operate on all or part of the section of Pennsylvania to be closed, carrying about 1,000 passengers on weekdays. Basslly said routes that run on the weekend would be rerouted beginning this morning

Metro General Manager Lawrence G. Reuter has said closing a portion of Pennsylvania would increase travel time for buses because of additional traffic in the area.

The Secret Service closed the far right, eastbound lane of Pennsylvania closest to the White House on May 9. The stretch of the avenue had come to resemble a police parking lot. For two weeks, police cars parked along the lane closest to the White House virtually day and rught, and motorists attemptlng to slow down or stop in that stretch were waved on.

The advisory committee has been examining security at the White House for several months. White House press secretary Michael McCurry said yesterday that Clinton had met with Treasury Secretary Robert, E. Rubin this week on the committee's recommendations.

McCurry would not discuss the recommendations, but administration officials said Rubin recommended to Clinton that he accept proposals to close the section of Pennsylvania Avenue.

McCurry also said the president had some additional points he was to have discussed with Rubin based on Rubin's briefing.

McCurry would not confirm any action with regard to closing the avenue.

An administration official said yesterday that "security experts make a compelling case for closing Pennsylvania Avenue," and another official said Rubin found the case convincing.

The panel that recommended closing the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets was established after a series of security breaches at the White House that included the crash of a small plane on tht grounds. After that, a man fired a semiautomatic rifle into the building from the sidewalk in front of the building.

An intensive study by specialists concluded that a truck bomb exploding outside the White House gates could significantly damage White House offices and injure people who work there.

The security specialists also decided that the only practical way to guard against such a threat was to close off the stretch of the historic avenue for the first time in its history.

The advisory committee recommended that the two long blocks become a pedestrian mall, allowing people to walk--but not drive--by the president's house.

Clinton has expressed misgivings about closing the street, and officials said he has been reluctant to take a step that will change the character of the street and cause tremendous traffic problems.

McCurry said "extensive consultations" have occurred with city and other officials about the security proposals.

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