A Dash to Prepare for Reagan Rites
By David Nakamura and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 9, 2004; Page A01
Federal and local officials ramped up precautionary measures in preparation for three days of memorial observances for former president Ronald Reagan, granting employees additional leave today in hopes of avoiding major traffic and security problems.
Federal employees will be allowed to take unscheduled leave today, meaning the time off does not need prior approval. Most D.C. government employees may request liberal leave beginning at 2 p.m.
The impetus for the moves, officials said, was word that police plan to close Constitution Avenue and all cross streets between 23rd Street NW and the U.S. Capitol from 3 to 9 p.m. The closings also will affect the 12th and Ninth Street tunnels, officials said.
Reagan's coffin is due at Andrews Air Force Base at 5 p.m. today and will reach the Capitol about two hours later, officials said. Public viewing will begin at 9 p.m. and last until 7 a.m. Friday.
"It's like putting a giant canal through the city," Tony Bullock, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said of the street closings. "If you are on one side, you'll have a hell of a time getting to the other side. Getting them out earlier in the day could make a big difference."
Williams also announced that D.C. government offices and public schools will be closed Friday, along with federal offices.
Also yesterday, final preparations were underway for Reagan's state funeral.
Military jets streaked in formation across the sky. A riderless horse paced in front of the Capitol steps while a military band played and tourists' cameras clicked. Landscapers hurriedly planted rows of red and yellow flowers. Police and Secret Service officers began roping off streets, sidewalks and entranceways at federal buildings and hotels.
Last night, part of Constitution Avenue NW was shut down for a rehearsal of today's procession that will take Reagan's coffin to the Capitol. First, six horses drew a caisson part way along the avenue's 1600 block; then, members of the armed forces removed a flag-draped coffin from a hearse and placed it on the caisson.
In Simi Valley, Calif., more than 50,000 people passed through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 24 hours to view Reagan's flag-draped coffin, according to an estimate. Viewing was extended until 10 last night.
On Capitol Hill, federal lawmakers remarked on the former president's contribution. "The world is a better place because of President Reagan's leadership. That legacy gives him a special place in history," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
While many D.C. residents and tourists applauded the grand proceedings, others wondered whether the hoopla was too much.
"They're giving him too much play," said Johnnie J. Wallace, a Washington chef. "Look how much it's costing taxpayers. People are losing money. The media are doing too much. You turn on the TV and what do you hear? What about the war in Iraq?"
Closing the federal and District governments Friday will result in a significant loss of productivity. The Office of Personnel Management has estimated the loss from a one-day closure of federal operations in the Washington area, such as during a snow emergency, at $66 million. But many operations that would be closed for snow will operate as usual, including agencies of the State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security departments.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company