The Washington Times
TUESDAY, MAY 20, 1997>

Lawmakers from area seek to reopen Pennsylvania Ave.
Norton wants 2 lanes for tourbuses, handicap vehicles

By Paul Bedard


Local House and Senate lawmakers this week will press President Clinton to reopen at least two lanes of-Pennsylvania Avenue in front of his house for tour buses and handicap vehicles.

The demand comes on the two-year anniversary of the closure of the thoroughfare. It also comes amid delays in the Treasury Department's environmental study of the shutdown that have forced the National Park Service to put off until 2000 plans to turn the roadway into a grassy park. In an interview DC. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democrat leading the campaign to reopen the avenue, which was closed for security reasons May 20, 1995, vowed to fight the permanent closing of the avenue between 1501 and 17th streets NW.

"That will be blocked." " There just is not going to be a closing of Pennsylvania Avenue," she said, explaining that legislation would be proposed if Mr. Clinton doesn't accept her compromise plan.

Mrs. Norton plans to collect the signatures of local congressional lawmakers before sending her letter and compromise plan to the White House this week. She is hopeful that Mr. Clinton will listen to her argument that the current closure of the avenue has hurt businesses in the area and sharply damaged tourism on which the city thrives.

"This is a big city that is in a lot of financial trouble and the president and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin have been helpful and understanding to us. This is something they may want to help us on:' she said.

Under the Norton plan, tour buses would be allowed to travel on the two lanes farthest from the law Eleanor Holmes Norton White House. Each tour bus would go through a security check, probably with bomb-sniffing dogs and special mirrors to look under vehicles. Cars carrying handicapped tourists will also be allowed onto the same two lanes, she said.

"There might well be some traffic that can use one or two lanes, such as tour buses and senior citizens and handicapped who don't get to see that side the north side of the White House ... and that's the side they want to see' she said. Mrs. Norton also said her compromise would bolster tourist pedestrian traffic in the stores on 15th Street and 17th Street that have been devastated by the closure of the avenue.

"If the president believes there are ways to accommodate some traffic and help the economy without impacting the president's safety, then it may be embraced, she said.

A White House official, however indicated that the president wouldn't bow to local concerns. "Everything is going ahead as planned:' said the official.

The president in 1995 gave in to long-time Secret Service and Treasury Department wishes to enhance White House security by closing the two-block Pennsylvania Avenue. The president's decision came after the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 persons, and after a pilot smashed his single-engine aircraft into the south wall of the White House On Sept.12,1994. The White House, however, has never been attacked by a vehicle. His decision outraged local politicians, including Mrs. Norton and Mayor Marion Barry who have consistently demanded that the avenue be reopened. Despite those protests, the administration has pushed forward with its plan to turn the avenue into a walking park. The Park Service last year released its redesign, but delays by the Treasury Department to release its "environmental assessment" of the plan have pushed the project back to 2000.

A Park Service official said that the delay in getting the Treasury Department's study of the environmental and economic impact of the permanent closing forced the secret service to abandon plans to seek funding in the fiscal 1998 budget currently being debated in Congress.

Brian Eleam contributed to this article.