Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Secret Service on Wednesday announced unprecedented security measures for the presidential inauguration, saying it will shut down all bridge crossings from Virginia into the District and establish a security perimeter that closes or limits vehicular access on 100 city streets.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John B. Townsend II predicted the bridge closings will overburden entry points to the city through Maryland and create gridlock throughout the metropolitan area.

“It’s overkill,” he said. “It totally cuts off access from Virginia. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard of in my life. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The unprecedented measures are intended to ensure security for the Jan. 20 swearing-in of Barack Obama, the country’s first black president - an event that is expected to attract more than 1 million visitors to Washington.

The Secret Service, which is leading the security effort, has enlisted the help of about 60 other agencies, including the National Guard and Metropolitan Police Department, which will double its staff of roughly 4,000 with officers from as far away as California.

The agency’s plan - crafted with the help of at least 10 other law-enforcement agencies including the Virginia State Police, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Maryland Department of Transportation - also restricts flights over the region and provides for the Coast Guard to patrol along the Potomac River.

As Inauguration Day begins just after midnight, officials will restrict traffic on the Key, the 14th Street, and Roosevelt bridges to buses, taxis, limousines and official vehicles. The Memorial and Chain bridges will be open to pedestrians only.

Only authorized vehicles will be permitted to travel north on Interstate 395 and east on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway.

“We urge motorists - whether traveling by bus, van or car - to plan their route well in advance, know which bridges and roads will be restricted and where they will park, … and prepare for long delays and a lot of walking,” said Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police.

The first of the restrictions will take effect Jan. 19 in the District, when police will create a security perimeter around a 3.5-square-mile area that includes Capitol Hill, the Mall, the White House and the Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest parade route.

“Certainly everything is interrelated when it comes to planning for the inauguration,” said Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Traci Hughes.

Police will establish a wider security perimeter running from K Street Northwest to the Potomac River in which parking will be prohibited and driving will be restricted to residents and vehicles on official business.

Pedestrians approaching the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route will have to pass through one of 13 police checkpoints. Bicycles will be prohibited within the security zones.

The restrictions will be in force until 7 a.m. on Jan. 21.

New York Avenue, the main entrance for motorists coming into the District from Interstate 95, will remain open.

Roads leading into the city from Maryland also will stay open. However, most of them - including 16th Street Northwest and Seventh Street Northwest - will be closed in the downtown area.

“It is important for everyone to understand that driving your personal car to Washington and finding a parking space will be like winning the lottery,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari.

The Sousa, Whitney Young and Benning Road bridges, which cross the Anacostia River from Maryland, will stay open. The Woodrow Wilson and American Legion bridges also will remain open.

“We want people planning to attend the inaugural festivities to have a positive experience as our nation celebrates this historic event,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O´Malley. “Key to making this a positive experience is planning ahead and having a full understanding of the transportation options available.”

The largest inauguration on record was Lyndon B. Johnson’s in 1965 when 1.2 million people came to the District for the swearing-in ceremony. Some estimates have as many as 3 million people coming for this year’s events, which include Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations on Jan. 19.

In preparation, Metro has opened about 60,000 parking spaces in 29 lots and 22 garages in the region. The parking lots will open at 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 20 and will charge $4 for the day.

Metrorail will operate rush-hour service for 17 consecutive hours on Inauguration Day, staying open for two extra hours until 2 a.m.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said the system’s capacity is 120,000 riders an hour.

“We can never recall when this many bridges have been closed,” he said.

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