Safer D.C. street

Friday, September 5, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The concrete barriers in front of the White House should be gone by the next presidential election. But you still won't be able to drive past on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Final design plans approved Thursday by the National Capital Planning Commission would include removal of a collection of huge concrete planters, sections of Jersey wall and prefabricated guard shacks along the north side of the White House grounds.

They will be replaced with decorative but functional bollards, or metal posts. Some of those would be retractable or removable to enable inaugural parades or other major events to pass through.

Existing trees will be replaced with American elms, additional benches will be added, and double light fixtures modeled after a 1923 design will be erected.

"The plan allows us to breathe new life into America's Main Street," said Commission chairman John Cogbill.

A special interagency task force on security worked on the issue for three years to determine future security needs before agreeing that the area should remain closed to vehicular traffic.

About 29,000 vehicles passed by the White House each day until the road was closed after the April 1995 truck bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

In the ensuing eight years, additional chain link and snow fencing has been used to isolate the White House from Lafayette Park, a traditional site for protests before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Today, visitors can only approach the wrought iron White House fence on foot.

"This was an intolerable problem and a national disgrace," said Richard L. Friedman, a member of the planning commission board.

More than $11 million has been spent on design, and the Bush administration's proposed 2004 fiscal year budget includes $15 million for construction. Plans call for work to begin in January and be completed by October. The project will also require temporary installation of a six foot high construction fence obstructing the view of the White House for up to a year.

The State Department's Blair House Guest Residence and the north facades of the U.S. Treasury Building and the Eisenhower Office Building -- also known as the Old Executive Office Building -- will remain inside the security zone.

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