Gingrich calls for avenue reopening


By Laurie Kellman



House Speaker Newt Gingrich yesterday said a government report showing the District lost $1 million from the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue proves the thoroughfare should be reopened.


"There's no reason to inconvenience all the people of Washington and all of the tourists for what I think is a false issue," he told WTOP Radio yesterday. "So I hope the White House will reconsider the decision] and decide to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue [by] simply having parking restrictions in the immediate area right in front of the White House."


Mr. Gingrich currently plays no role in talks on the issue, but Republican leaders are expected to wade into the debate in coming weeks.


The White House should allow "any traffic except heavy trucks, and simply make sure that you have police there in case anybody pulls up and stops," the speaker said. Then, police could simply "tell them to keep moving."


"He considers this a concrete and asphalt moat separating Americans from a national treasure that rightly belongs to them," said Gingrich spokeswoman Christina Martin.


Mr. Gingrich criticized the White House two years ago when the Clinton administration accepted a National Park Service recommendation to close the avenue for security reasons after the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.


The report about the cost, traffic and environmental impact of the May 20,1995, closing of the avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW


was spelled out in an "environmental assessment" report released yesterday by the Treasury Department.


The report, required before the 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 shut down the avenue to commuters.


D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton called the report a "victory," and she continues to negotiate a compromise with the administration that would open one lane of the street to tour buses, whose operators have lost money because the closure blocks their view of the White House.


About 26,000 cars a day have been diverted from the street to other routes, worsening congestion and pollution, the report said.