Statue of Liberty's pedestal to be reopened this summer

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NEW YORK -- The Statue of Liberty, which has been closed since 9/11, will reopen to visitors this summer following security and safety improvements, although the interior above the statue's pedestal will remain off limits, officials said.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton said it would take about four months to complete the improvements that will allow visitors inside the statue's pedestal, which houses a museum and an observation deck located about 16 stories above the water line.

Because of concerns about terrorism, Norton said there are no plans to allow visitors to enter the interior of the statue, which was permitted prior to 9/11.

"Safety of citizens and preservation of the statue are our main goals," Norton said. After 9/11, "We had to reassess what it means to provide an appropriate level of safety and emergency services for our visitors, especially at a location that is an attractive terrorist target," Norton said.

Visitors will be able to view the statue's interior through a newly created glass ceiling inside the base. Safety improvements will include upgraded emergency exits, fire-control systems and enclosed stairways.

Additional screening procedures will be implemented, and visitors will be required to reserve tickets to the statue before boarding ferries to Liberty Island.

By the end of the year, approximately $30 million will have been spent on improvements to the 118-year-old monument.

Currently, tourists can visit Liberty Island, which reopened in December 2001, but are not allowed inside the 151-foot statue or its pedestal.

Prior to 9/11, some 4 million people a year visited Liberty Island, but the numbers had dropped by nearly 45% by the end of 2003.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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