Plan to tunnel under Washington Monument draws harsh opposition

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The National Park Service (NPS) has extended its public comment period for their plans to tunnel under the Washington Monument in order to build a permanent visitor screening facility beneath the iconic structure. Though seemingly a bureaucratic formality, the NPS is facing some harsh opposition.

The NPS previously had planned to close comments on December 8, but has since announced that it will continue to accept comments regarding the site’s planning efforts until January 7, 2011.

The agency is considering five separate plans, all designed by architect Hany Hassan of Beyer Blinder Belle, for a new security screening area at the Washington Monument. Four of the plans would create tunnels leading to an underground security check point (the elevator reaching to the top of the monument would be extended to reach the subterranean chamber), while an alternative plan would build an architecturally complimentary glass structure above ground.

The visitor screening facility will replace the security building, constructed after September 11, 2001. At the time of its instillation the building was considered to be a temporary security solution.

This is not the first time the NPS has proposed plans to tunnel under the monument for security purposes. In 2003, the Park Service attempted a similar proposal but was derailed when concerns about cost and safety led Congress to refuse to fund the initiative.

Dr. Robert Hershey, past president of the D.C. Society of Professional Engineers, testified against the proposal back in 2003. Hershey told The Daily Caller that after Congress killed the project seven years ago he thought it was gone for good. He laments that he is now having to fight another round.

“My main concern is they are undermining the monument. In other words, when you undermine some structure you are making it weaker,” Hershey said. “The other thing is that it doesn’t accomplish anything on security — the monument is already secure, since the only thing you would have to worry about for the monument itself is a truck bomb and they already have a barrier around the monument ground — nobody could get a truck in.”

According to Hershey, if the NPS builds an underground tunnel for security they will only increase the danger to visitors.

“If they did this underground entrance to do the screening they have introduced a danger to the visitors that any blast would be magnified by being in an enclosed space, as opposed to screening the people on the surface like they do now,” he said, adding that he, the D.C. Society of Professional Engineers, and the National Coalition to Save Our Mall have made formal objections to the proposal.

Despite such objections, The Washington Post reports that Bill Line, National Park Service spokesman, has said that the Park Service will use both old and new studies to ensure that any plans ensure the monument’s structural integrity.

“The Washington Monument has been where it is for quite a number of years, and I’m not aware of any movement or instability,” he said.