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District braces for road chaos
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.
Mr. Evans, who represents much of the area affected by the security measures, said he understands why the bridges will be closed to private vehicles, but he thinks it is important that authorities move people out of the city as smoothly as possible. He said the planning “started with the Secret Service saying, ‘This is the way things are going to be done.’”
Mr. Evans’ remarks echoed those of Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who said last week that preparations “will continue to change rapidly between now and up to Inauguration Day.”
The chief also said that is “the Secret Service’s job to move the president around the city. It’s my job to move the city around the president.”
The security planning included coordination with dozens of federal, state and local entities, with the Secret Service in the lead role. Law enforcers were involved in 13 mock scenarios - ranging from “white powder” threats to nuclear and cyberattacks.
But D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray complained in an interview this week that there is no go-to person, agency or Web site consolidating information about the inaugural plans and making it readily available to the public.
All kinds of key information, including alternative routes into and out of the city, and what inaugural attendees can expect once they get here, is being lost to the average person, he said.
The inconveniences extend beyond traffic and transportation. The Secret Service measures mean there will be no mail pickup or delivery in some areas on Tuesday, and in other areas it will be curtailed.
The ZIP codes 20001, 20002, 20003, 20006, 20024 and 20037 may experience partial or no delivery, and there will be no delivery to 20004 and 20006. Some curbside drop boxes will be taped shut or removed entirely.
Newspapers are impacted, too. The Times will be removing an estimated 400 single-sale boxes.
About the Author
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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