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Road Plus Rally Equals Snarls

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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not even Republicans could have planned a worse combination of time and place for a rally in support of Sen. Barack Obama than today's planned 6 p.m. event at Nissan Pavilion.

The 25,000-capacity amphitheater is served by a single two-lane road off a chronically jammed commuter highway, Interstate 66, that routinely backs up from 3 p.m. on a typical weekday until long past 6. There is also major construction that could force supporters of the presidential candidate through a bottleneck that brings the four-lane westbound side of the highway down to two lanes.

"This sounds like its going to be an absolute disaster," said Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart, a Republican. "Obviously, I have no influence on Barack Obama, but if I did, I would ask him to move the event up a little."

Parking lots will open at 2 p.m. and doors at 3. The program will start at 6. Admission is free and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, suggests getting there early: "Don't think about giving yourself some extra minutes, but an extra hour or two."

For just about any event at Nissan Pavilion, I-66 and the local roads back up for hours. The timing and projected size of today's rally could make the traffic jams epic.

Obama's appearance in Prince William County might provide him with a good snapshot of the congestion problems that the Washington area, especially Northern Virginia, faces.

"The problem is self-evident and should be easily absorbed by the senator," said Gordon Hickey, spokesman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who was an early and strong supporter of Obama (D-Ill.). He said the governor's office has reached out to the Obama campaign, urging their supporters to carpool and get out early.

As for Kaine, he is scheduled to be in Northern Virginia today and will be driven to the rally. "We'll be in a car like everybody else," Hickey said.

Pete Frisbie, chairman of the Prince William Democratic Committee, said the Obama camp chose Nissan Pavilion in western Prince William because it is the largest venue in Northern Virginia. But the crowds could wind up being twice as large as the pavilion can hold.

"It could be up to 50,000," Frisbie said. "It's the first event of the national campaign and a historic moment."

Local police said they would not allow any vehicle access to the pavilion once the parking lots are full.


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