Police officials have assigned roughly 2,500 patrolmen and undercover officers to monitor the Fourth of July crowds today but have issued no special warnings about terrorist attacks. Heavy traffic, however, remains a concern.
“We have no information that we’ve been given from Homeland Security or the FBI that would indicate that there’s been any specific threat toward Washington,” Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday after meeting with federal officials. “However, we obviously have to be very alert and very cautious because it is the Fourth of July.”
The national terror threat yesterday was at code yellow, meaning a “significant risk” of an attack.
The AAA reported that about 32.6 million people will travel by automobile in the United States this weekend, and yesterday it seemed as if most of them were in the region.
All the major interstates, beltways and roads around the District had significant backups and delays as of early yesterday, and the situation could be worse when D.C. officials close as many as 53 streets, ramps and bridges for the Independence Day Parade at 11:45 a.m., the fireworks display at 9 p.m., and other events, including the National Symphony Orchestra’s performance at 8 p.m. on the Capitol’s west lawn that will include singer Dolly Parton.
A large number of motorists were leaving the region, too.
About 275,000 of them are expected to cross the Bay Bridge during the long weekend. That’s about a 3 percent increase over last year, according to the state’s Maryland Transit Administration. The $2.50 eastbound toll will be waived tonight from 7 to midnight. The Maryland Lottery is sponsoring the program to help ease traffic through the toll plaza.
The security plan for the estimated hundreds of thousands of visitors expected in downtown Washington started earlier this week when U.S. Park Police secured the National Mall with two rows of wood-slatted fencing. The area will be swept for explosives this morning by park police and bomb-sniffing dogs.
Police will also activate 14 surveillance cameras today throughout downtown and have established 19 security checkpoints for visitors trying to enter the mall.
Such measures were added to special events after September 11.
The roughly 1,500 officers working downtown this weekend will include police from the park police, metropolitan and transit police departments, and 16 state and local agencies, D.C. officials said.
As many as 15 officers could be posted at each checkpoint, and visitors can expect to be searched with a metal-detecting wand. Alcohol, firecrackers, glassware, grills and metal coolers are among the banned items.
Still, officials said their best anti-terrorism device might just be the weather. With temperatures expected to reach the high 90s, visitors will likely be wearing little more than shorts and T-shirts, so they will have few places to conceal weapons.
“Anyone in a trench coat would arouse suspicions,” park police spokesman Sgt. Scott Fear said.
Police also will be looking for drunken drivers on the crowded roads. The National Commission Against Drunk Driving predicted more than 300 motorists will be killed today.
The Maryland State Police is reviving its “Operation Yellow Jacket” program this weekend on sections of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 to find drunk, stoned and aggressive drivers. The squad cars have special “Yellow Jacket” logos. Officials said they revived the program, started in the 1980s, because of an increase in DUI arrests over the last few years.
Area motorists who drink too much can get a taxi through SoberRide, sponsored by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program. The service runs from 4 p.m. today until 4 a.m. Saturday. For a free taxi ride call 800/200-TAXI.
The U.S. Coast Guard and D.C. police’s harbor patrol also have been deployed for the holiday weekend. Crews will keep boaters on the Potomac 200 feet away from the District shore. The zone extends from Arlington Memorial Bridge to the 14th Street Bridge, and boats will be prohibited from anchoring beneath bridges.