Construction equipment takes over White House lawn

Visitors to Washington D.C. will get a different view of the White House over the next several months — hydraulic excavators and other heavy construction equipment are parked on the president’s front lawn as part of a construction project on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Pennsylvania Avenue has largely been an eyesore since it was closed to traffic in 1995 for fear of terrorist attacks on the White House. Last fall, Congress approved a $26.1 million beautification project that is to be completed by October, in time for the inaugural parade in January 2005.

The project began last week when workers installed a chain-link fence around the site, blocking an up-close view of the White House. Sounds of jackhammers breaking up concrete and excavators dumping large pieces of broken asphalt into trucks can now be heard for blocks. The pavement on the two-block sector of Pennsylvania Avenue will be removed, along with the old streetcar rails buried underneath the asphalt, and a brown, small-pebble gravel will take its place. Instead of the odd assortment of barriers that has blocked the road for the past few years, tall elm trees will be planted, streetlights, bollards and benches will be installed and guard houses will be built.

The project has not been approved without some controversy. Many legislators wanted the street to be reopened to traffic, but Secret Service officials said it was still too much of a security risk. The plans, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, therefore had to leave the street in a relatively open manner so the street could be eventually reopened to traffic. With about $675,000 and a month of work, the guard houses and bollards can be removed and the road can be opened to traffic.