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Call Off Work On Inauguration Day, Employers

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have read that the head of Metro says that people should walk on Inauguration Day.

What are commuters from the suburbs to private-sector jobs in Washington supposed to do about getting to work?

Nickolaus E. Leggett

Reston

Employers: Think of Jan. 20 as the date of an impending blizzard, one that will come not from the sky but from all sides, in the form of cars, trains and buses. Let people take the day off.

As for Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr., I think he's feeling what Capt. Quint felt when a stunned Chief Brody turned to him aboard the Orca and said, "You're gonna need a bigger boat."

Nobody has seen our shark yet, and its size is hard to imagine.

Everyone has heard the estimates that several million people will want to share the experience of the historic inauguration. Transportation planners are taking those educated guesses seriously.

The trouble is, the planners can't pull out old playbooks and say, "It's going to be like this, only bigger." The officials I've talked to can cite no precedents.

Metrorail, for example, plans to take the extraordinary step of running rush-period service for 15 straight hours. No midday off-peak to regroup from the morning. People who come in hours before the noontime swearing-in will spend hours more trying to get home after the inaugural parade.

Riders will be stressed, and so will the trains. It's not hard to temporarily knock a train out of service by leaning against the doors or trying to force them open when they're closing.

In that 4 a.m.-to-7 p.m. stretch, trains are almost certain to encounter many such problems. A few extra trains could be positioned around the system to jump into service in emergencies, but trains still would have to share a track to get around one in trouble.

In the suburbs, the Maryland Transit Administration and Virginia Railway Express are working out plans for service on the federal holiday. Their effort is oriented toward people going to the ceremonies, and special train tickets must be purchased in advance. Several MARC riders complained to me that their monthly passes will be no good and that they'll have to buy the $25 round-trip tickets to get to work.

MTA spokeswoman Cheron Victoria Wicker sympathized but said this was not designed as regular service and required some scrambling to set up.

VRE was inclined not to provide any service that day -- until people started calling, said Mark Roeber, spokesman for the train system. They were people with hotel rooms far outside Washington and long-distance bus drivers hoping to drop off passengers at a station. "It was overwhelming," Roeber said, and the plan changed.

His good advice to travelers is to think through the trip completely. Many people will be changing modes of transportation that day, and that will add to the uncertainty.

Parking at National

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We have a flight out of Reagan National Airport at 2 p.m. Jan 20. (Really bad planning on my part!) We'll be driving up and should not have a problem with traffic at that time, but I fear all available parking will be taken by those driving in, leaving their cars at the airport and taking Metro to all the inauguration action.

I contacted the airport and they said that, yes, maybe all the spots will be taken and that I should call a couple of hours before we leave.

That may be way too late.

Barbara Kozlowski

Richmond

Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said that airport personnel will do everything they can to accommodate passengers driving in for flights but that no special arrangements have been made for that date.

The airport learned that at predictably high travel periods, parking in the garage and the economy lot can be tight. It set up a parking hotline, at 703-417-PARK (7275), for up to-the-minute information on availability.

Travelers also can get current parking information on the airport Web site, http://www.metwashairports.com/reagan. But as Kozlowski pointed out, that has limited value if you have a drive of several hours ahead of you.

Hamilton said the airport doesn't really know how much traffic to expect Jan. 20. The crush before big holidays or at spring break has become predictable.

For this event, the only thing we know for sure is that we won't get to practice.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in the Extras and Sunday in the Metro section. You can send e-mails to drgridlock@washpost.com. Include your name, community and phone numbers. Some letters are published. Get There: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/getthere.

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