Roads, Trains Can't Handle Jan. 20 Droves

By Lena H. Sun and Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 15, 2008

Even if only half of the projected 2 million to 4 million people show up for next month's presidential inauguration, the Washington region's roadways and transit systems will be too pressed to handle the crush, planners say.

Officials are working out details of their transportation plan for the event, but the capacity of the area's transit and road infrastructure, combined with strict security, means residents and potential visitors need to have realistic expectations about how quickly they will be able to move around on Jan. 20, officials said.

People who live near the Arlington Cemetery Metro station, for example, and are planning to take the subway to the swearing-in ceremony might want to think about walking, because trains will be packed. On foot, the three-mile trek from the station to the Reflecting Pool at the Capitol should take about an hour.

And anyone planning to drive in from Virginia might consider a boat: the Roosevelt, Memorial and inbound 14th Street bridges will be restricted to buses and authorized vehicles. Maryland and D.C. officials are also considering bus-only corridors.

Even for those who can get to town or who live there, moving about is going to be dicey: Widespread street closures will severely restrict driving, parking and taxi availability, and delays are likely to be extensive. City officials are working to designate pedestrian-only streets.

But getting into town might be easier than getting out: If 1 million people try to board the subway at the same time after the main festivities end, it could take more than eight hours to move everyone.

In other words, consider staying home in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn.

"It's going to be a lot of walking, a lot of waiting, and you might not get too close to the president," City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said.

Of course, plenty of people can't stay home -- they'll have to work. At the 1,316-room Wardman Park Marriott in Northwest, the District's largest hotel, employees can sleep on cots. Homeland Security employees will be sleeping in a trailer.

Transportation experts are not mincing words.

"If millions of people are coming to the National Mall, Metro can't handle everyone. It's impossible," agency spokeswoman Candace Smith said. People should expect "long lines, long walks, and they need to make decisions about what they're willing to put up with."

A huge section of the District should be made a no-drive zone, said Metro Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, who also serves on the Arlington County Board. "You'd be nuts to try," he said. "I would discourage anyone from driving into the city."

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