Security Fears Spur Pennsylvania Ave, Closing
By Stephen C. Fehr and Ann Devroy
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
McCurry said "extensive consultations" have occurred with city
and other officials about the security proposals.
Washington Post Staff Writers
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