- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

Washington-area residents might think they are used to gridlock, but inaugural traffic could make getting around nearly impossible.

A million or more people likely will besiege the District in hope of being part of President-elect Barack Obama’s historic day.

With all bridges from Virginia to the District closed to most commuters and the Metro expected to be packed with visitors, travel should be left to the truly dedicated - or those who have no choice.

About 3 a.m. Tuesday, officials will restrict traffic on Key Bridge, 14th Street Bridge and Roosevelt Bridge to buses, taxis, limousines, official vehicles and pedestrians. The Memorial and Chain bridges will be open to pedestrians only.

Beginning at the same time, travel on Interstate 395 North and Interstate 66 East inside the Capital Beltway will be closed except for authorized vehicles, making it nearly impossible to get from Virginia to the District.

“We anticipate heavy traffic on Tuesday night and on Wednesday as people leave their hotels,” said Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police. “We can’t emphasize enough that people have to plan ahead.”

Virginia State Police did not impose any bridge or road restrictions during the last inauguration for President Bush in 2005, Ms. Geller said.

The Virginia State Police will be putting up numerous digital signs to warn drivers who are not authorized and will escort cars toward the off-ramps if they do try to continue toward the District.

The Virginia Department of Transportation also said it would be retiming traffic signals on major routes to keep traffic moving.

While the Maryland Department of Transportation has not issued any road restrictions, it is expecting huge numbers of people trying to enter the District. Commuters who plan to use some of the major feeder roads into the District, including Connecticut Avenue and New York Avenue, will quickly be met with roadblocks as they move into the city toward the parade route.

Maryland State Police said they could close ramps from the Maryland portion of the Beltway if traffic begins to back up.

Area officials are urging those who need to get around on Tuesday to use the Metro - even providing free bus transportation to various Metro stations in some areas - although it is not clear that the system will be able to handle the huge number of riders expected.

Customers traveling to the inauguration will need to be prepared for lengthy delays throughout the service area due to heavy traffic and street closures and crowded conditions on the streets and sidewalks downtown, Metro says.

“We are advising customers that if they have any concern about being able to navigate or endure these conditions, they should avoid traveling into downtown Washington on these days,” said Christian T. Kent, Metro’s assistant general manager of access services.

Disabled and elderly riders in particular may find using the Metro difficult, as many escalators will be turned off at strategic locations to help with crowd control, and elevator access is likely to be limited by the large numbers of people attempting to use them.

Metrorail, which has a capacity of about 120,000 riders per hour, will operate rush-hour service for 17 consecutive hours on Inauguration Day, staying open for two extra hours until 2 a.m.

Metro will be closing its Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter station on the green and yellow lines as well as the Smithsonian station on the blue and orange lines.

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. Tuesday and charge $4 for the day.

Getting to the Metro may also prove to be difficult for some people. The Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) mass-transit rail service sold out its Inauguration Day tickets to the District by Jan. 9. The Virginia Railway Express had not sold out its tickets as of a week before the inauguration, although it was expected to sell the last 2,000 of its 8,750 tickets by Tuesday.

Amtrak has beefed up its services to accommodate the increased ridership expected Tuesday. Extra trains and cars will be added to Amtrak’s Northeast corridor trains on Inauguration Day, with a majority of the extra capacity available southbound toward Washington in the morning and northbound from Washington in the afternoon and evening. Amtrak said it will also be increasing its security measures on that day.

Meanwhile, at least 10,000 charter buses carrying as many as 500,000 people are estimated to descend on the city, bringing in visitors from all parts of the country. The Secret Service has cordoned off huge sections of the city to provide parking for the buses.

Flying probably will not be any easier, especially if arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport - both of which are in Virginia and will be difficult to access on Inauguration Day.

Airlines have increased the number of flights and the size of planes going to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport during inauguration weekend. Around 30 extra flights have been added from various carriers headed to BWI, the only local airport to ramp up flight numbers.

The largest inauguration on record was President 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 4 million people coming for this year’s events, which include Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations on Jan. 19.

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