Region Braces for Funeral Processions
D.C. Announces Liberal Leave for Wednesday; Government, Schools Closed Friday
By Steven Ginsberg, Del Quentin Wilber and Mark Stencel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 8, 2004; 7:42 PM
The city government and public schools in the District will be closed Friday to honor Ronald Reagan and to help ease traffic on a day when thousands of mourners are expected in the nation's capital to bid farewell to the former president, who died Saturday.
Local officials and institutions across the Washington area were still adjusting plans and rescheduling events Tuesday to account for the crowds and traffic disruptions expected for the three days of public ceremonies that begin Wednesday.
District officials announced they would offer liberal leave for many city employees after 2 p.m. Wednesday, shortly before a motorcade carrying Reagan's coffin into the city from Andrews Air Force Base was expected to cause major traffic tie-ups in the region. Employees of the District Police, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Emergency Management Agency were not eligible.
"Our city will be the focus of international attention over the next few days as our nation comes together with tributes, prayers, and heartfelt sympathy from millions of Americans who have been moved by the news of President Reagan's death," D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said in a statement Tuesday.
The federal government will be open Wednesday but was offering unscheduled leave for employees.
President Bush has declared Friday a national day of mourning and closed the federal government that day. In addition to the city schools and government, George Washington University will be closed on Friday as well.
The graduation ceremonies for four Montgomery County high schools scheduled for Wednesday and Friday at DAR Constitution Hall have been adjusted to account for the arrival of Reagan's coffin in Washington on Wednesday and his funeral on Friday. On Wednesday, Quince Orchard High School will now hold its graduation at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Thomas S. Wootton High School will hold its ceremony at 8 p.m., the school system said in a statement. On Friday, Watkins Mill High School holds its graduation at 9:30 a.m. and Northwest High School's ceremony was moved to 3 p.m. Montgomery County schools will be open on Friday, the statement said.
Local transportation officials have issued warnings to commuters and travelers in the hopes of avoiding three days of gridlock in the region.
Alerts sent across the East Coast advised drivers to avoid the eastern arc of the Capital Beltway on Wednesday evening, when Reagan's coffin is scheduled to be taken to the Capitol. Officials said Tuesday they were working out plans to try to avoid massive rush-hour tie-ups, but were still asking commuters to use mass transit Wednesday through Friday, try to leave work early Wednesday and even take time off, if possible.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has lifted HOV restrictions on Northern Virginia interstates Friday, the day of Reagan's funeral.
Traffic problems are likely throughout the ceremonial period. Wednesday evening's rush hour may be the worst as the coffin is moved at 6 p.m. from Andrews into the District. It will be transferred from a hearse to a horse-drawn caisson for a procession that is to start near 16th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, head down Pennsylvania Avenue and arrive at the Capitol about 6:50 p.m.
District transportation officials warned that Constitution Avenue NW will be closed from Henry Bacon Drive to the Capitol on Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Officials discouraged motorists from using I-66 east into the city because of the closures, which they said also will affect the 12th and 9th Street tunnels and other streets that cross Constitution Avenue. Twenty-third Street NW will be open to traffic heading out of the city on the Roosevelt Bridge, while traffic heading into the city will be diverted to E Street Expressway. The 3rd Street/I-395 tunnel is expected to remain open.
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, parking was prohibited on Constitution Avenue between 17th Street NW and First Street NE. Authorities will begin towing cars parked on Constitution Avenue just after midnight, and workers will start installing metal fences along the procession route to prevent people from leaving the sidewalks and getting into the street.
At 6 a.m. Wednesday, police will conduct a security sweep of the Mall and close Jefferson and Madison drives from 3rd Street NW to 14th Street NW. The roads will remain closed until about 10 p.m.
Drivers can get updated information on the radio by tuning to 1630 AM.
Police said the route from Andrews to the Mall will be shut down just before Reagan's motorcade arrives and will reopen after it passes through.
"This will have a huge impact on traffic," said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.
Visitors to the Mall and other spots along Wednesday's procession route should expect to pass through security check points, Ramsey said.
Police officials urged people to not to bring large bags or coolers.
Maryland officials also warned motorists to expect significant traffic tie-ups on major and secondary roads Wednesday evening. To avoid major rush-hour delays, especially on the Beltway, officials made tentative plans for the motorcade carrying the former president's body to enter the city on Suitland Parkway. But drivers were still advised to avoid the area around Andrews.
On Thursday, transportation officials expect tens of thousands of people to view Reagan's coffin at the Capitol. Even if all roads are open, officials are asking people to take Metrorail to the Capitol.
To help accommodate the many who were expected to pay their respects, Metro officials announced plans to operate an overnight bus service Wednesday and Thursday between the public parking lots at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and the Capitol.
Metro officials said that several bus routes would be affected by road closures. Because Friday has been declared a federal holiday, MetroAccess customers must call to schedule regular trips. Metrorail will operate on its normal weekday schedule all week, including Friday, officials said.
On Friday, Reagan's coffin will be taken from the Capitol to Washington National Cathedral at 10:30 a.m. for the funeral service. Afterward, at 1:15 p.m., the coffin will be taken to Andrews. Officials said Monday they don't have the details of that day's route, but they noted that there is no easy way to get from Wisconsin Avenue NW to Andrews. The motorcade will either have to twist back through the city or head north to the Beltway and follow it for several miles, interrupting trips for midday drivers.
There are not many things Washington area drivers will accept as legitimate reasons for slowing their drive times, but transportation officials are hoping that this occasion will be one of them.
"We are the capital of the United States," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "While it will certainly slow up traffic for those out there, regionally we're very good at making adjustments [for] these kinds of special events."
David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, begged drivers for a little patience.
"We have one of the most popular presidents of the 20th century" in Reagan, he said. "I hope people are willing to put up with an afternoon's worth of bad traffic out of respect for what's happening."
washingtonpost.com staff writers Amanda Zamora and Danylo Berko contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company