Monday, April 14, 2008

The crowds expected for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit has D.C. transportation officials — who encourage the use of mass transit for popular public events — suggesting commuters stay home.

“It would be good if they could just stay home,” Karyn LeBlanc, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, said yesterday. “But of course most of them have jobs to go to.”

The pope will arrive tomorrow, but traffic is expected to be most troublesome Wednesday. Benedict is scheduled to travel in a midday procession from the White House to the Apostolic Nunciature, on Massachusetts Avenue Northwest near the vice president’s home, then during the evening rush from the nunciature to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast.

City officials will close cross streets along the route, reroute buses and use rolling street closures.

Metro riders are likely to encounter the most crowding on Thursday morning. The pope is scheduled to celebrate Mass at 10 a.m. at Nationals Park in Southeast.

The estimated 45,000 people with tickets to the event largely will arrive during the morning rush and use mass transit.

Metro is prepared for the crowds and is not discouraging use of the buses and subway trains, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

Mrs. LeBlanc said to those who must travel in the city for the next few days: “We certainly want people to use Metro.”

Motorists coming north into the District also are expected to face delays Thursday because traffic on Interstate 295 crossing the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge will be diverted until 2 p.m. to the 11th Street bridges.

This will be the first papal visit to the District since Pope John Paul II made a stop in 1979.

Metro daily ridership records were broken on June 9, 2004, the day of the state funeral for former President Ronald Reagan, when 850,636 trips were recorded.

The Metropolitan Police Department and 300 officers from other area law-enforcement agencies will provide security and traffic control for the pope’s visit.

Assistant Chief Patrick Burke, who runs the department’s homeland security division, declined to disclose how many officers will be assigned to the detail but said there will be a “significant police presence.”

He said many officers will be working overtime and no neighborhoods will lose beat officers. Chief Burke estimated the cost of police security will be “in the millions” of dollars and that it would be covered by the Vatican.

Direct security for the pope will be provided by the Secret Service and the Swiss Guard, the pope’s colorful private army.

Col. Elmar Mader, the commander of the corps, will travel to the United States with as many as five other armed Swiss Guards and work with U.S. law-enforcement agencies on security arrangements.

The corps will provide additional bodyguards to drive and guard the popemobile during the processions, say diplomatic sources in the Holy See. One of the best known of the corps is Domenico Giani, sometimes described by the Italian news media as Benedict’s personal bodyguard.

Michael Farr and John Phillips contributed to this report.

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