DC Del. Norton: Immediate shutdown of Washington Monument ‘unacceptable’

WASHINGTON — D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is criticizing the National Park Service’s extended closure of the Washington Monument.

The congresswoman told WTOP she is “crestfallen” over the closure and that “there is no good cause” for the immediate shutdown.

On Monday, the National Park Service said the monument would be closed indefinitely after a series of elevator problems.

The Washington Monument has been closed since August, when the elevator failed three times in five days, including one occasion in which employees were trapped inside.

NPS initially hoped to repair the elevator and reopen the monument in mid-September before shutting it down again later for an extensive rehabilitation project.

But NPS spokesman Mike Litterst told WTOP that independent consultants ultimately could not find the root cause of the ongoing reliability issues, and the monument would remain closed until the elevator control system could be completely overhauled — a project that will take months.

“The elevator professionals that work on and provide recommendations for the operation of the Washington Monument elevator could not explain why it has suffered so many service interruptions in recent months, nor could they provide assurances that they would not continue to happen,” Litterst said. “As a result and out of an abundance of caution, we made the difficult decision to close the Washington Monument until the elevator modernization has been completed.”

But Norton isn’t satisfied with that decision and said the agency hasn’t explained why the closure is necessary.

“If there is, of course, a threat to public safety, then to close the monument early is justified. But since it’s going to be closed anyway for almost a year, I’m asking that the monument be kept open as long as possible,” she said. “They’re not ready to start on the project. We have another two months to go. So proactively closing the monument without giving us a good reason is simply not acceptable.”

When the elevator failed in August, employees were trapped and visitors had to walk down the steps to get out.

“When the elevator stops working, the welfare of our visitors and staff is compromised, from being required to walk down 896 steps to potentially being trapped in the cramped, claustrophobic and hot cab for 45 minutes or longer,” Litterst says.

Norton says this closure will negatively affect D.C. tourists who come to the District to enjoy various museums and monuments.

“This is the worst timing that Washington has seen in a long time because we’ve just opened the Museum of African American History and Culture,” she said. “So there’s a whole flock of new people coming to D.C. for the first time. So if we’re going to lose the monument during the coming cherry blossom season, don’t take it away from us prematurely unless you really feel you have no alternative.”

NPS will provide a timeline of the monument closure in the next few weeks.

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