Gridlock predicted near White House

Drivers scout alternatives to Pennsylvania Avenue

By Jim Keary

John Martin scouted the route to work yesterday to figure out what his commute will be like this morning, the first since Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed for security reasons. He didn't like what he saw.

"It's going to be crazy in the morning" said Mr. Martin, 36, as he waited several minutes in his 1970 Volkswagen "bug" yesterday to make the turn from E Street onto 15th Street NW.

"I came by to see what they've done before I start out in the morning" he said. "I can see it will be a long wait."

He is not the only one who is anxious to see how the morning rush hour works out. Government officials will also be watching closely to see how the newly closed roads -- which carried almost 50,000 vehicles a day -- will affect traffic in the city's core. "Bottlenecks can be just about anywhere" said Linda Grant, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works. "There are 26,000 vehicles that use Pennsylvania Avenue and 23,000 that use E Street. There is going to be some impact along all those crosstown streets."

President Clinton's order, which took effect early Saturday, closed Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW as well as State Place, effectively cutting off westbound traffic on E Street NW. The streets were closed for security reasons, to buffer the White House from a car bombing or other attack.

Ms. Grant said traffic engineers will watch traffic flows and determine if H Street, which is now a two-way road, should become oneway eastbund. She said alternate east-west arteries include Constitution and Independence avenues south of the White House and H, I and K streets to the north.

In an attempt to keep things flowing today, most on-street parking will be eliminated in the two-block area around the White House, allowing extra lanes for traffic throughout the day.

"That's fine tomorrow, but what about the next day and the next?" Jay Witter IV asked yesterday. He is a congressional aide from Alexandria who expects traffic to back up into Virginia today. "This won't go away. It's permanent.

"It's going to be a zoo. It's going to be massive gridlock," predicted Mr. Witter, 27. "Cars are going to be backed ujp from here to Virginia. It's insane."

Mr. Witter will get one break this morning: Like all federal employees in the District, he will be alllowed to show up for work an hour late because ofthe traffic changes.

From appearances yesterday, when traffic was light, there could be problems on 15th Street, especially north of New York Avenue, where it intersects with Pennsylvania Avenue. All traffic from westbound New Yourk Avenue will ahve to turn right onto 15th Street and figure out a way to turn left and head west again.

Westbound traffic on E Street will also have to stop at 15th Street and turn left or right. A trash bin in the right northbound lane of 17th Street near the Old Executive Office Building won't help matters in the morning.

Mr. Martin's favorite route - westbound on E Street between 15th and 17th streets - was closed yesterday, forcing him to turn left against traffic and head south to Constitution, then west toward 17th Street. The trek normally takes less than a minute, but it took about eight mnutes yesterday in light traffic.

Cheryl Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said about 30 bus routes that normally run along Pennsylvania Avenue will be diverted to H Street. There are temporary bus stop signs mounted on street signs to show riders where the buses stop.

She said Metro is trying to take adavantage of the situation.

"We are encouraging people to use our very viable alternative means of transportation," she said. "That's Metrorail."

A Metrobus supervisor said the new routes are the same ones used when Pennsylvania Avenue was closed in the past for ceremonies and parades.

"We've done this before, but never in rush hour," he said. "I'd cut a wide berth around the White House. It will probably be a mess.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park