United Press International January 8, 2002
Road reopening under tight guard
By IRENE BROWN
The military is preparing to ease stringent, post-Sept. 11 security measures and reopen a prime 6-mile stretch of oceanfront highway to commuter traffic.
Motorists, however, can forget about soaring down picturesque SR A1A, which connects tourism-fed Cocoa Beach to neighboring towns in Brevard County's southern beachfront. Travel is restricted to one lane in each direction; the speed limit has dropped from 55 mph to 35 mph; and traffic will be under constant surveillance. Pickup trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles will be inspected before being allowed on the road and box trucks, 18-wheelers and recreational vehicles are banned. "I'm sure there are going to be some bugs in the beginning," said Steve Homan of the Florida Department of Transportation. "But a little bit of delay is a whole lot better than a detour."
Since Sept. 20, traffic has been rerouted onto a narrow residential road or the mainland highway US 1 while the Air Force developed plans to increase security at Patrick Air Force Base, which is located on the west side of SR A1A. The prime concern was the Air Force Technical Applications Center, which contains equipment to monitor nuclear explosions around the world.
"AFTAC is peculiar, in terms of being an intelligence agency that you could drive right up to its front door," said John Pike, of the Arlington, Va.-based Global Security research organization.
In addition to the traffic restrictions, the Air Force built a 2,000-foot-long, 7-foot-high barrier on the west side of the median in front of the facility. The barrier was constructed with wire-like mesh and gray plastic-like sheeting and filled with dirt and other materials Air Force officials declined to reveal.
In addition, the building's east windows are being covered with steel. "Eventually it's all going to be steel," Air Force spokesman Maj. Mike Rein said. "We're not going to have any windows there."
The facility oversees a network of more than 80 sensors worldwide to detect nuclear weapons testing, accidents and other incidents. The information is collected at sent to the Patrick Air Force Base facility for analysis.
"The AFTAC campus is certainly one of the more physically vulnerable intelligence facilities," said Pike. "But on the other hand, AFTAC performs a strategic, rather than an operational or tactical function. If AFTAC were destroyed, it would not degrade America's war-fighting abilities."
"It's odd that they're doing all that to protect AFTAC and nothing is being done to protect the Supreme Court," Pike added.
Copyright 2002 United Press International