District braces for road chaos

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Road-closing plans for Tuesday’s inaugural ceremony could extend to Interstate 95 and other major highways, going well beyond the unprecedented measures already announced with the prospect for traffic headaches beyond anything ever experienced, officials say.

From a security viewpoint, the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama will be “the largest event ever in the world,” FBI official Joseph Persichini Jr. told a group of security professionals at a briefing last week.

Virtually every media organization in the world has applied for credentials to cover the swearing-in of the 44th president, he added.

Estimates call for close to 2 million visitors, which would make the inaugural crowd the largest ever to descend on the U.S. capital. Publicly announced plans already call for closing three Potomac River bridges and two interstate highways feeding into the District from Virginia.

Mr. Persichini told the professionals, including a representative from The Washington Times, that authorities might also close parts of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Interstate 295, two major freeways skirting the city’s eastern edge. They may also close ramps on and off of I-95 — the main interstate running from Maine to Florida — as it runs through the eastern Maryland suburbs.

Certain feeder roads within the District but miles from the downtown area where the inauguration will take place could also be closed at times, said Mr. Persichini, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office. He added that there have been no credible threats of an attack on Mr. Obama.

Other facilities will be stretched to the breaking point, with the U.S. Postal Service announcing it will not deliver mail in some ZIP codes and mass-transit officials saying any buses that break down in central Washington will be left where they are until Wednesday at the earliest.

Employees at many downtown offices have been advised to get as close as they can by car or mass transit and complete their commutes on foot.

The security clampdown begins Sunday with restrictions on access to the Mall — the site of a gala free concert — and will peak between 3 a.m. Tuesday and 7 a.m. Wednesday, when the major bridges and highways will be closed to private vehicles.

Some roads affected by the swearing-in and the parade will be closed at 1 p.m. Monday for a security sweep.

In the downtown area surrounding Tuesday’s festivities, security barriers will make it impossible for those who attend the noon swearing-in to get in place for the 2 p.m. parade from the Capitol along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

There also is concern about sanitary facilities, with some doubting the estimated 5,000 portable toilets will be adequate for the immense crowds.

The region’s mass-transit authorities plan to expand services, but Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. has already sent up two yellow flags: Parking lots that hold 60,000 spaces are expected to be filled within two hours of the 3:30 a.m. opening; and many trains serving the District are expected to be filled to capacity.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said, “This is not your typical day in our country’s history; this is not a typical crowd. This is not like throwing your family in the van and heading down to a visit at the Air and Space Museum. You need to have a plan.”

But even those who plan carefully for the day could be frustrated. The official arrangements are “changing daily,” D.C. Council member Jack Evans told The Times.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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