- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

The inauguration of Barack Obama is still nearly two months away, but everyone from the Secret Service to Western Maryland motel owners have long been planning and preparing for the more than 1 million visitors expected for the swearing-in of the country’s first black president.

Those planning to come to the District or stay in town already know to bring money: Hotel rooms are going for double and triple the price, though tickets for galas and the Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony are not for sale.

The city’s Metrorail system typically handles 1.2 million riders a day. But most are daily, seasoned riders - not visitors.

“We expect the crowds to be huge,” said John B. Catoe, the agency’s general manager. “We expect that our stations and trains will be packed. People should expect to be waiting in long lines.”

However, the deeper concern around the District is still about how to deal with the crowds and how to protect Mr. Obama, whom federal officials say has already been the subject of hundreds of death threats.

The mammoth security effort will be led by the Secret Service and is expected to resemble that of post-Sept. 11, with countersnipers on rooftops and the Coast Guard and Air Force providing water and air support.

The security perimeter for the swearing-in and parade along Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest could extend beyond downtown to city lines, officials said.

The Secret Service is bringing together 58 military and law-enforcement agencies.

“We have been assigned to Obama since May 2007, and we understand the kinds of crowds he has brought in, which are unprecedented,” agency spokesman Bill Corbett said.

Among the agencies will be the Metropolitan Police Department, which has asked for help from 93 other law-enforcement agencies from as far away as Florida, New York and Ohio.

The District’s 5,265 surveillance cameras also will be watching, as many visitors begin arriving Friday, Jan. 16, for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 19 and Inauguration Day.

“I think you’re going to get people from all walks of life come into Washington,” Nick Trotta, assistant director of the Secret Service’s Protective Division, told the Associated Press. He also acknowledged the re-emergence of hate groups through the presidential campaign and since Mr. Obama’s election victory. However, he would not say whether the traditional parade route would be altered or whether Mr. Obama would get out of his heavily protected limousine.

The National Park Service is preparing to oversee the parade route and the Mall, where hundreds of thousands will gather to watch the swearing-in ceremonies on Capitol Hill. However, agency officials acknowledge they are not sure how many people will arrive.

“We have no way to read it,” agency spokesman Bill Line said. “Of course people are excited, but how does that translate into numbers? I have no idea.”

The record was set in 1965 when 1.2 million people came to the District for the swearing-in of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

D.C. officials say their only guaranteed money to pay for additional services is the annual federal appropriation of $15 million. That’s about $2.3 million less than they spent on security for the relatively small second-inaugural events for President Bush in 2005.

There are still rooms available in the District, but even the economy hotels and motels are asking four-star rates.

The Motel 6 on Georgia Avenue Northwest last week was charging $600 to spend inauguration eve, according to the Web site Expedia.com.

Such rates and the need for larger spaces and cooking accommodations have sent many to the online marketplace Craigslist, with area residents more than willing to help.

The day after the Nov. 4 election, Craigslist.org had 98 postings for rental apartments. The number had increased to more than 2,630 by last week, with rental fees ranging from $250 a night to $10,000 for the week.

Mr. Fenty has temporarily suspended the enforcement of city regulations that require residents to have a business license for short-term rentals. “We think it is important to provide visitors, who may not have access to a hotel in the area, a chance to witness this historic event,” he said.

Still, city officials are warning potential deal makers to use caution when negotiating with strangers and without a business license.

“We encourage anyone coming to the District to do as much as they can to check out their accommodations before they arrive,” said Linda K. Argo, director of the city’s Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Though the Presidential Inaugural Committee and the State Societies of Washington D.C. pick the number of official balls, the deciding factor will largely be supply and demand. Many of the District’s A-list venues are already booked or are in closed negotiations.

The Galleria at Lafayette Square, which charges $4,200 an event, is booked every day during inauguration week.

A spokeswoman for the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel on Connecticut Avenue Northwest said only that a long waiting list of groups want to host parties.

However, the Newseum, which is on the parade route, is hosting an open party from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. The cost for an adult is the regular admission priceof $20, which does not include food or drinks.

The president-elect traditionally attends the party of his home state. This year, the Illinois State Society of Washington D.C. will host its ball Jan. 19 at the Renaissance Washington Hotel on Ninth Street Northwest.

Still, the toughest ticket in town will likely be one of the 240,000 to see the swearing-in. They are given to the president and Congress members, who give them out on request.

The demand has been so overwhelming this year that Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting House member, has stopped taking requests.

Mrs. Norton also has written letters to every representative in the country, asking if they could spare extra tickets for D.C. residents.

In the past, those who don’t mind paying a high premium have been able to buy tickets through brokerages. This year, two of the biggest, eBay and StubHub, have banned the sale. In addition, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for anyone to sell inauguration tickets.

Transportation to and around the city also will be expensive and limited.

Amtrak officials said 16 of their 85 trains coming to Union Station on Inauguration Day are already sold out and only limited seating is still available from Friday, Jan. 16, until Jan. 20, with fares ranging from $72 to $221 for the high-speed Acela.

Airlines are adding flights for the week. Southwest Airlines, for example, is adding 26 to and from Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, said company spokeswoman Olga Romero.

Many travelers are looking to charter buses as an alternative, and city officials expect as many as 10,000 to arrive.

“Almost since the day after the election, the demand and requests for dedicated charter buses took off,” said Dale Moser, president of Coach USA, in Paramus, N.J., one of the largest such companies in North America.

The company runs 11 daily routes from New York to the District and plans to double or triple the number on inauguration week.

Mr. Moser said he and other bus companies should have no problem meeting the demand because January is typically a slow month so they can pull buses from other parts of the country. The New York-to-the-District loop, known as the Megabus, largely services individual riders who reserve seats via the Internet.

Limousine services also are reporting a huge demand.

“We’ve quoted hundreds of people per day since the day after the election,” said Kristina Bouweiri, owner of Reston Limousine of Sterling.

Richard P. Kane, president of International Limousine Service, said he has received requests from around the world and that a local driver on such a busy day is worth the money because he knows where streets are closed and where to detour.

Both companies said prices range from $2,500 to $5,000 for a three-day package, depending on whether the customers ride in a sedan or limousine.

The city has stepped in to help - as it did with property rentals - by allowing limousine operators in the District to expand their fleet with rental cars.

Still, the heavy work of moving most of the visitors will fall on Metro’s buses and subway cars.

Metrorail, the country’s second-largest subway system after New York City’s, will operate on a rush-hour schedule on Inauguration Day from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. and stay open until 2 a.m.

Despite the increased service, the agency is telling riders to prepare to wait more than 30 minutes to board after the parade, when most people will leave the downtown area.

Metro’s Inauguration Day record was 811,257 passengers for Bill Clinton in 1993, followed by 601,839 for George W. Bush’s first inauguration in 2001.

Heightened security also will create delays. Bags will be subject to searches, so riders are being asked to bring as few as possible.

“Inspections will be random, unannounced and focused on explosive detection,” said agency police Chief Michael Taborn.

The agency is designing commemorative fare cards that include a picture of Barack Obama. The paper fare cards are expected to be in vending machines by late December. The $10 commemorative SmarTrip card will be available in early January.

The agency’s Archives-Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter Metrorail station on the Green and Yellow lines and will be closed. And the Smithsonian station entrance to the Mall, off the Orange and Blue lines, also will be closed.

Tickets for the inauguration are expected to be coded so holders will know which station to exit to get to their viewing location.

For up-to-date information on Metro travel, including e-alerts, visit the agency’s Inauguration Web page at www.wmata.com/inauguration/.

Metrobus will operate on a normal Saturday schedule and parking will be free at all Metrorail-operated lots throughout Inauguration weekend.

Though officials recommend traveling light, dress warmly.

Jan. 20 is usually a cold day - sometime very cold. The average high is 43 degrees and the average low 27. The coldest Jan. 20 was in 1985, coinciding with Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration. It was so cold, the public swearing-in ceremony was canceled, and Mr. Reagan’s ceremony was held inside the Capitol.

The weather for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration also was cold and snowy. Eight inches fell, causing traffic jams all across the District, but officials managed to clear Pennsylvania Avenue so the parade went off as scheduled.

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