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Panels Mulls Opening Penn. Avenue

March 1, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A bipartisan panel will spend the next four months examining whether Pennsylvania Avenue should be reopened near the White House.

``We want to find ways to ensure the security of our public institutions,″ said Richard L. Friedman, chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission, which will be part of the panel.

The 12 member group includes Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams. It will work with the Justice Department, FBI, and other agencies to examine all aspects of security in public areas of the district.

The panel also will consider ways to enhance security at federal public facilities in northern Virginia and suburban Maryland.

The group will make recommendations to President Bush, who will have the final say on whether a three-block section of Pennsylvania Avenue should be accessible to vehicular traffic. Bush had made a campaign promise to study the issue.

The road nicknamed ``America’s Main Street″ was closed with concrete barriers less than 24 hours after the April 1995 truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The Secret Service has kept it closed ever since, citing security concerns.

The agency wants to maintain the current security perimeter, said Terry Samway, a Secret Service spokesman.

A Feb. 7 incident involving a gunman near the south lawn of the White House has renewed debate about the closure, which detours 29,000 motorists each day.

Robert W. Pickett was charged with assault on a federal officer after he allegedly pointed a pistol toward Secret Service agents concealed in shrubbery. Pickett was shot in the leg by an officer.

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