Finding your way through the inauguration traffic

January 8, 2013
Inauguration map
Map provided by Secret Service shows area closed to traffic in red. Dotted line marks area with traffic restrictions.

For many, Inauguration Day planning means scouting out the best viewing spot for the swearing-in or the parade, but many others will simply be trying to figure out whether they can reach a destination on time.

During Monday’s online chat, one traveler asked: “We have a flight out of Reagan at 7 a.m. on Monday 1/21/13. We’re coming from Frederick, Md., using a airport van transport. Do you foresee any problems getting to the airport?”

I said to stay tuned, because at that point, we hadn’t seen a list of road closings. But the U.S. Secret Service did make that public later in the day. You can see the full list of street closings on Mark Berman’s earlier posting.

But let’s talk a bit more about what this additional information means for ordinary travel. First of all, I think our airport-bound traveler from Frederick is likely to be okay with the van following a typical route down the Capital Beltway and across the American Legion Bridge to the George Washington Parkway.

The U.S. Park Police say that the GW Parkway will be open in both directions.
Parkway traffic will be allowed in and out of Reagan National Airport.

For the 2009 inauguration, which involved a much larger crowd than what officials anticipate this time, one of the most frequently asked questions from travelers not planning to attend any of the ceremonies was: Can I get to National?

I remember one was driving north from the Richmond area. Some were just worried about parking, fearing that the inauguration-bound crowd would overwhelm any garage near a Metro station. During and after the inauguration, I found no evidence that air travelers experienced problems. During the online chat, one traveler wrote this about the 2009 experience: “I had no problems getting to the airport using GW Parkway. I actually took off right after they showed Obama sitting down, and flew over the mall. Pretty cool!”

Back in ’09, many travelers trying to get between D.C. neighborhoods and the airport were worried that security had effectively walled off driving routes over the Potomac River. It seems to me that the plan this time is a bit easier to deal with. Specifically:

  • The Interstate 395 HOV northbound lanes in Virginia will close at 9 a.m. Jan. 21. They will reopen southbound upon the conclusion of the inaugural address in early afternoon.
  • The I-395 main lanes and I-66 in Virginia will be open to all traffic.
  • Traffic coming across the 14th Street Bridge will be diverted away from 14th Street NW onto the Southeast-Southwest Freeway beginning at 5:30 a.m.
  • The Third Street Tunnel will be closed to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
  • Traffic coming across the Roosevelt Bridge will be diverted onto the northbound Potomac River Expressway to Pennsylvania Avenue or the Whitehurst Freeway and K Street.
  • Rock Creek Parkway will be open, using a holiday traffic pattern.
  • Memorial Bridge will be open to pedestrian traffic and authorized vehicles only.
  • Key Bridge, Chain Bridge, Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Legion Bridge will be open to all traffic.
  • Clara Barton Parkway also will follow a holiday pattern, with two-way traffic all day.
  • North Washington Street at Montgomery Street in Alexandria  to
    National Airport will be open.
  • The Anacostia River crossings — South Capitol Street, 11th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, East Capitol Street, Benning Road, New York Avenue — all will be open. Watch out for the roads around RFK Stadium. The lots at RFK are the primary area for charter bus parking. Pennsylvania Avenue SE will close at the security checkpoint on Capitol Hill.

And in answer to another concern about getting around D.C. on Jan. 21: The Capitals and Wizards won’t be playing at Verizon Center on Inauguration Day.

While the overall schedule of closings is bound to lead to disruptions, I think this is a less restrictive approach than was taken in 2009. Plus, it’s the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, so there should be fewer people bound for work than in ’09.

Metro riders will have rush-hour service most of the day, even though it’s a holiday. But even though it’s a holiday, they’ll still have to pay for parking at the lots and garages operated by Metro. And the Archives, Mount Vernon Square and Smithsonian stations will be closed because of the inauguration. I’d also avoid Federal Triangle, which was closed for a few hours last time for safety and security reasons.

All the Metro stations in the center of D.C. are likely to be very crowded before and after the noon swearing-in and the afternoon parade.

Metrobuses that would normally operate within the security zone will be detoured around it. Even the ones that can stick with their normal downtown routes may get caught in traffic and thrown off schedule.

What else do travelers have to worry about in getting around on Inauguration Day? I’d like to hear especially from those who had to get around on Inauguration Day in 2009.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Robert Thomson · January 8, 2013