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The Avenue to Reopen for Inauguration

By Stephen C. Fehr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 5, 1996; Page E01

The two-block section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, closed last year to traffic to discourage would-be car and truck bombers or other terrorists, will be opened briefly on Jan. 20 for President Clinton's inaugural parade, officials said yesterday.

But don't get the idea that authorities are relaxing the permanent ban against motorists driving on the president's front street. The concrete barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW will be removed temporarily, but only vehicles participating in the parade will be allowed to travel on that section of the street, officials said.

District leaders, members of Congress and Clinton's defeated Republican opponent, Robert J. Dole, have called for permanently reopening the street to vehicular traffic, but administration officials said there has been no discussion about reversing the closure.

Clinton, advised by the Secret Service that the White House is vulnerable to damage from a car or truck bomb, ordered the street permanently closed on May 20, 1995. The decision was partly based on the rash of terrorist bombings at the time, including the destruction of a federal office building in Oklahoma City the month before.

"Nothing has changed since then," said a spokesman for the Treasury Department, which oversees the Secret Service. At the time of the closing, administration officials emphasized that the street would be open for the parade.

After leading his second inaugural parade home in a limousine, Clinton is scheduled to sit in a bulletproof presidential reviewing stand, which will be set up on the sidewalk facing north from the White House. Secret Service officials declined to discuss in detail the steps they are taking to protect the president.

Special agent Arnette Heintze said the Secret Service disputed the idea that the street is being "reopened," and noted that only those who have been thoroughly checked will be permitted access on Jan. 20. The inaugural parade will start about 2 p.m. at the Capitol and proceed up Pennsylvania Avenue, dispersing between 17th and 19th streets NW.

"If anything, we're closing Pennsylvania," Heintze said. "We're taking entire custody and control of Pennsylvania Avenue that day."

Nevertheless, the concrete planters and guard booth that seal off Pennsylvania Avenue will be moved aside that day for the horses, bands and other marchers in Clinton's inaugural parade. Some of the planters weigh 27 tons but are designed to be moved.

The planters and guard booth are part of a temporary plan to soften the view down the avenue, whose six lanes of asphalt have been likened to an airport runway.

The National Park Service has proposed a permanent design that calls for the White House fence and road area to curve into the street, with the addition of brick paving and gatehouses and renovations to Lafayette Square.

But that plan, which was to have been finished in time for this upcoming inauguration, has stalled, in part because of efforts in Congress to block any changes that might permanently close the avenue.

City officials, business leaders, lawmakers and motorists contend that the closing has fouled up traffic going between east and west, effectively splitting the city and hurting nearby businesses.

As the inauguration nears, crews have begun building the reviewing stands on either side of Pennsylvania in front of the White House.

The sidewalks have been closed, and pedestrians are being rerouted into the street.

Tourists can no longer snap pictures in front of the iron gate.

Finishing a tour of the executive mansion yesterday, Mike and Doris Brown, both 40, of Lincoln, N.C., expressed the sentiment of many visitors.

"It's sad we had to close it, but they had to take some kind of action," Mike Brown said. "I think it's good we can open it for at least one day. It shows he can be closer to the people some of the time."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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