District's E Street Work to Begin by May

A plan to widen a stretch of E Street NW to ease traffic congestion around the White House was announced in April 1998. It took 20 months, but it now has $1.5 million in federal funding.

Congress earmarked the money in the 2000 budget and work should begin by May, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said last week.

The funds will reopen eastbound-only E Street to two-way traffic and improve drainage, sidewalks, lights and signals from 15th to 17th streets NW, between the Ellipse and the South Lawn of the White House. Westbound traffic will turn north and feed into New York Avenue.

Since Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to traffic in front of the White House in 1995, city leaders and businesses have complained that east-west traffic snarls have cut the city's downtown in half.

District officials have called the widening of E Street to four lanes the next best thing to reopening the avenue, from which vehicles were excluded for security reasons after the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.

Allen Burden, division engineer with the Federal Highway Administration in Sterling, estimated the project's final cost at $1.3 million to $1.7 million, up from an original estimate of $1 million. The figure does not include $500,000 spent for a feasibility and design study. Completion is scheduled by the year's end.

--Spencer S. Hsu

Franklin to Receive Grants, Loans

In September, rain brought by Hurricane Floyd poured down on southeastern Virginia for nearly a week, causing the Blackwater River to overflow and flood the small mill town of Franklin.

After approximately 20 inches of rain had fallen, water covered many buildings and rose to at least the halfway point of all 182 downtown businesses and several dozen adjacent residences. Oil, raw sewage and fertilizers also spilled through the streets, ensuring that virtually every structure would have to be gutted, if not torn down.

In the following days, Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) pledged to rebuild Franklin, a town of about 8,000 people that was settled along the Blackwater more than 150 years ago.

The governor has now announced $5.3 million in grants and low-interest loans to aid the devastated business owners and residents in Franklin and neighboring Southampton County.

The governor allocated $2.8 million in grants and $2.5 million in low-interest loans, and both will be available for business owners and homeowners. Last month, the Commonwealth Transportation Board contributed $1 million to improve streets in downtown Franklin. All told, state agencies have contributed more than $18 million in aid since the flood catastrophe.

"With this announcement, I am fulfilling my pledge to the citizens of Franklin and Southampton County to support their long-term recovery and redevelopment efforts," Gilmore said in a statement.

--Steven Ginsberg

Loudoun Considers Cheaper Schools

Almost a year ago, school officials in Loudoun County raised the prospect of deep cuts in spending on school construction.

Skylights, courtyards and terrazzo tile floors were among the features in jeopardy because the county's Board of Supervisors declared planned new campuses too costly. Loudoun needs to build 23 schools in the next six years to handle the increasing student population, which grows about 10 percent a year.

Supervisors based their criticism in part on the school system in Douglas County, Colo., which is growing faster than Loudoun's but manages to build schools more cheaply. A new high school there cost $10 million less than Stone Bridge High School, the $28 million campus that will open in August in Ashburn.

The Loudoun School Board wouldn't eliminate the design features, though it ordered a 5 percent reduction in each school's cost.

In June, Loudoun officials flew to Colorado to see for themselves how Douglas County builds schools.

What they found, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said, was lower construction costs and less stringent building and safety codes. A report is being prepared for the Board of Supervisors, which will meet with school officials next month to discuss their capital improvements budget.

Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Mercer), a frequent critic of school spending, said, "I just find it fascinating that there's not one thing that can be learned from Colorado."

--Liz Seymour