Closing's costs won't open avenue

Traffic, pollution rise as District's s loss nears $ l million

By Paul Bedard



The May 1995 closing of Pennsylvania Avenue has cost the District nearly $1 million and increased pollution and traffic in areas around the White House but not enough to alter plans to permanently shut the street to commuters, according to a long-awaited Treasury Department report.


But White House officials, who had brushed aside city demands for a compromise, said yesterday they are considering requests from D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to make exceptions, possibly for tour buses.


"We are working with the Congress and with District officials on this issue, and we are going to cooperate with them' Clinton spokesman Barry TOIV said.


"That's a victory 'said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat. "There's no question that new technology [to detect bombs in vehicles] will allow us to open Pennsylvania Avenue in the future."


President Clinton, on the advice of the Secret Service, shut down the avenue May 20, 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing and after the White House was struck by a light plane and by 29 bullets from a gunman standing on Pennsylvania Avenue.


The grim news about the cost, traffic and environmental effects of the closing of the avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW came in an "environmental assessment" from the Treasury Department.


The report, required before the National Park Service can begin its renovation of the area bounded by H Street, 15th Street, 17th Street and the Ellipse, does not suggest slowing or altering the administration's plans to permanently close the avenue to commuters.


Instead, it raves that the closure and changes to Lafayette Square "will result in a quieter and more pleasant experience on the north side of the White House."


An administration official said that with the exception of a minor compromise with city officials, the street will eventually be ripped up and replaced by a park.


The public has 30 days to comment on the findings, which largely focus on economic and traffic issues.


Among the key findings are the costs associated with shutting down the two blocks and shifting the cars, buses and trucks that used to use the street.


The report says Metro rerouted 25 bus lines a total of 19,200 miles a year at a cost of $314,000 annually.


In addition, Metro had to spend $40,000 to put up new bus-stop signs and shelters on the altered routes, which mostly affect the 30, 32, 34, 35 and 36 lines between Friendship Heights and Southeast.


The loss of parking meters along the new routes has cost the city $98,000 annually in lost revenue, the report says.


To offset the losses, it suggests placing meters on streets near the White House that don't have metered parking.


Administration officials said there are no plans to reimburse the city for the lost money.


White House spokesman Michael McCurry suggested that the administration's finance plan for the District would help, but others said none of the money in the bailout directly addresses the losses to Metro or the parking authority.


Not surprising to downtown commuters is the finding that the roads where traffic has been rerouted are congested.


Rush-hour traffic on Constitution Avenue is 50 percent more congested, the report says. Other highly congested roads affected by the closure are K, H. I, 14th, 18th and 19th streets.


"Based on observation and available pre-action data [before the May 1995 closure], there were traffic operations problems on streets in the extended study area before the security action. The shift in traffic caused by the security action worsened those problems, especially on the east-west streets that gained traffic," the report says.


To lessen rush-hour gridlock, the report calls for the end of on street parking on both sides of 20th Street within 100 feet of K Street, a halt to left turns onto southbound Connecticut Avenue from K Street, and the removal of on-street parking on 17th Street by the Old Executive Office Building.


Pollution and noise have also increased on the roads carrying increased traffic..


The report says the pollution from vehicle tailpipes is not at dangerous levels. The traffic noise has reached "human annoyance" levels, but the Treasury Department suggests that it would drop if the city filled potholes and tightened manhole covers.


Treasury workers interviewed tourists, and 85 percent said they were not upset with the closure, with the exception of having to park far away because of the lack of street parking near the White House.


Tour bus operators said the lack of a good view of the White House for their customers has hurt business.


Their concerns could be alleviated by Mrs. Norton plan to open a lane to tour buses, even if the area is fenced in as planned.


An administration official said the White House is hopeful that Mrs. Norton and city officials will meet soon to discuss exceptions to the Park Service plan.




Key finding:


While congested before, the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue has worsened rush-hour traffic jams on K Street, H Street, l Street Constitution Avenue, 14th Street, 18th Street and 19th Street by as much as 50 percent.


Tour-bus operators have been hurt financially. They complain that tourists cannot get a good view of the White House from the few open streets with a clear view.


Metro had to change 25 bus routes, including the key route between Friendship Heights and Southeast locations on the 30, 32, 34, 35 and 36 lines.


The Metro changes cost the District $314,000 annually primarily because motorists need to travel an additional 19,200 miles on the adjusted routes to get around the closed section of the avenue.


Setting up new bus stops cost Metro $40,000.


The removal of parking meters on the adjusted routes cost the city $98,000 a year in revenue.


Pollution in the traffic jam areas has jumped, but not to harmful levels.


The White House has become much less noisy for the Clintons as the din was shifted to the new traffic areas. The government plans no changes such as noise barriers or truck prohibitions.


The noise on the new traffic routes is higher and more annoying, but that is due in part to shoddy roads, idling buses and loose manhole covers.


The secure area around the White House is uglier because of cement barriers ringing the outer perimeter.


More than 85 percent of those interviewed said the closure did not affect their touring of the White House, although many complained about having to park far away.


The permanent closing of the area to cars primarily affects parking. recommendations


Remove on-street parking on both sides of 20th Street within 100 feet of K Street to loosen congestion at the intersection. Lost: six parking meters.


Stop left turns from Connecticut Avenue southbound at K Street.


Remove on-street parking beside the Old Executive Office Building.


Install 49 new parking meters around the area to offset the revenue loss of removing other meters.


Source e: Department of the Treasury, The Washington Times