U.S. Says It Will Pay For Closing the Avenue

Officials Irked D.C. was Not Consulted Before Action

By Stephen C. Fehr and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers

Federal officials promised D.C. Council members yesterday that the city will not have to foot the bill for converting the section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House into a pedestrian mall.

During a two-hour meeting that council members described as "rocky" at times, Rodney Slater, diredor of the Federal Highway Administration, said his agency would pay for reprogramming traffic lights, putting up new signs and making any other improvements needed to ease traffic around the White House.

Slater said the federal government also will study the overall traffic and economic effects of closing Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW.

The promise, along with a presentation on security at the White House, apparently eased the anger of some city officials over the abrupt way in which the avenue, a main east-west thoroughfare, was closed last weekend.

"We are not making demands on the federal government; we are not disputing the Secret Service," council Chairman David A. Clarke (D) said after the meeting. "What we are saying is that they ought to meet the problem they aeated when they closed Pennsylvania Avenue."

Slater, Treasury Undersecretary Ronald K. Noble and Secret Service Director Eljay B. Bowron also said federal officials would take part in a coming D.C. Council hearing on the avenue closing. Noble said they want to learn ways to improve the area. Neither federal nor city officials could provide an estimate of what the street closing ultimately will cost.

District officials have criticized the federal govenunent for acting on the closing without consulting the city. Mayor Marion Barry, in a letter to President Clinton released yesterday, said federal officials should have conducted a traffic study before closing Pennsylvania.

"This would have eliminated the mass chaos, confusion and frustration, which ultimately resulted," Bany said. "Motorists were not given any advance notice, which would have allowed them the opportunity to plan for this drastic change. Rather, we were all caught off guard."

D.C. police and Metro officials warned that downtown Washington traffic jams will worsen after officers are pulled from traffic duty near the White House unless changes are made to two busy streets nearby.

"We cannot maintain this," said police Inspector David W. Bostrom, referring to the contingent of 40 officers assigned to key intersections in the area. The $30,000 cost of overtime for the officers is being borne by the federal government. But as of next week, their duty is scheduled to end.

The biggest problem from the street closing appears to be the left, or westbound, turn from northbound 15th Street onto H Street, which has become the alternate east-west route. The traffic signals at the intersection are not timed to move the larger number of cars, trucks and buses now traveling the street.

H Street has three westbound lanes and two eastbound lanes. I Street goes one way east-bound with four lanes, although it has room for a fifth lane between 13th and 17th streets.

One plan endorsed by police and Metro officials calls for H street to be converted to a one-way street eastbound, while I is made one way westbound.

"H and I both have excess capacity and would function efficiently as a one-way pair," said Robert L. Morris, a Bethesda traffic consultant who studied the White House area for the Secret Service.

Metro General Manager Lawrence Reuter said yesterday that he endorsed creating new traffic patterns or, at the very least, restricting a lane on H Street to buses.

Linda Grant, a spokeswoman for D.C. Public Works chief Larry King, said the plan convert H and I streets was still under review but she added, "We do need more than 24 hours to deterrnine what we're going to do.

Staff writers Steve Vogel and Howard Schneider contributed to this report.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park