HED: Inauguration Poses Transportation Hurdles

Dorothy Rowley | 4/12/2011, 4:38 p.m.

Residents of the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland, plus out-of-town visitors who plan to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration of America's 44th president, Barack Obama, should keep four things in mind: plan ahead, be prepared, pack a lot of patience and realize they will be a part of history.

The momentous swearing-in of the nation's first Black president is classified as a National Special Security Event and, according to the Secret Service, transportation logistics are expected to pose a nightmare for the myriad of agencies tasked with its planning and protection.

Usually about 2 million people commute to the District on a daily basis.

But imagine the scene on Inauguration Day with a huge contingent of area residents - plus the 5 million or so visitors who are expected to swarm the city. (Fewer than half-a-million people attended George W. Bush's inauguration in 2005.)

With 4,000 additional police officers deployed to cover the parade route, the Mall and the Capitol, the District will be well-secured. The other biggest concern is how people will move about: If conditions are expected to be tight getting into D.C., they will be just as tight getting out, according to Washington Metrorail officials.

After New Year's Day, officials began "a lot of messaging to the public" in which motorists were informed about the limit on cars for the inauguration. Bus drivers were also alerted that they have to obtain permits, said Robert Crouch homeland security advisor to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.

"That's part of where the major focus [has turned], so that people don't spend hours if not days on the interstate and get to the Beltway and find their expectations can't be met," Crouch said.

Shaun Adamec, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, added that the throngs of people pouring into the District "will obviously affect the surrounding area" and that Maryland officials are doing all they can to ensure there are appropriate plans to accommodate the massive crowds.

"I don't want in any way to discourage anyone," said Dan Tangherlini, District of Columbia city administrator. "I just don't want them to come and be completely shocked by what they find."

While officials agree overall that public transportation will make the best sense, here's a glimpse of what inauguration spectators can look forward to:

Lack of access to downtown

People who plan to drive will be in for a surprise: they won't get anywhere near downtown. At around 2 a.m. Jan. 20, Virginia state troopers reportedly will start turning northbound vehicles away on I-395, I-66 and the Dulles toll road. Maryland drivers who choose to use back and side streets should expect gridlock.

Further, only authorized vehicles such as emergency vehicles, taxis and for-hire limos will be permitted to travel northbound on Interstate 395 and eastbound on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway/I-495.

Mass transit overload

For starters, D.C. officials say because they expect such an incredible mass transit overload, they are advising people from nearby Northern Virginia to consider walking or biking to the inauguration due to major road and bridge closings. Those closings, however, will not affect some 10,000 charter buses that are scheduled to roll into the city.