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.
Considering the 120,000 commuters the system already transports each hour, security on D.C.’s Metro rails has reached priority status, and because vehicular mobility will be greatly compromised, extraordinarily long lines will only add to the congestion.
As for traveling on foot, that could be a good idea. Although Virginia State Police had said earlier that most bridges leading into D.C. would be closed to pedestrians, it was announced over the weekend that all bridges from Virginia will be open to foot traffic and that people will be able to walk or bike across the Key, 14th Street and Roosevelt bridges as long as they keep on the sidewalk and bike paths. The Memorial Bridge could also end up being a major walking route, but for the time-being, officials are asking anyone who lives within 2 miles of the festivities to walk. In fact, officials are suggesting that people who will be housed within 5 miles of festivities to forget about driving and instead come up with creative ways to get to the inauguration.
Parking for those who want to drive will be limited although a viable option may be to park at the Metro stations.
Impact on local bus service
Commuters should be prepared for bus detours and backups because of street closures. According to Metro, the heavily used X2, the 30s line, the S1 and S2 bus lines will all be affected by the closures. However, MTA buses will still be available and some 9,000 tickets can be purchased on Inauguration Day for $10.
Closed streets and bridges
While all bridges – including the Key Bridge – from Virginia into D.C. will be closed to everything except bus traffic, major Potomac crossings, including the 14th Street Bridge, reportedly will be reserved for buses and authorized vehicles.
The D.C. Fire Department will be on-call in the event of mass evacuations and closed streets will be established for people to flee if disaster strikes, according to the Secret Service which is overseeing inauguration security.
A 3.5 mile area of downtown D.C. will be closed as of 12 noon on Jan. 19 and on Inauguration Day, and because no personal vehicles coming in from Virginia will be able to access the city, officials are asking commuters to enter D.C. from the north.
Increased airline flights
According to an Associated Press report, Amtrak is expanding service on its northeast travel corridor between Boston and Washington on Inauguration Day. Southwest Airlines is adding 26 flights to and from the D.C. areas between Jan. 17 and Jan. 23. In addition, both Delta and Northwest airlines are adding more than 5,000 seats between Jan. 16 and Jan. 21 by using larger aircraft on existing flights.
For a complete Inauguration Transportation Information for Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, visit afro.com.