Inauguration to Close Bridges and Highways

Crossing Roosevelt Bridge, looking across traffic toward Memorial Bridge.
Crossing Roosevelt Bridge, looking across traffic toward Memorial Bridge.
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By Eric M. Weiss and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 8, 2009

The U.S. Secret Service and regional transportation officials unveiled a plan yesterday to ban personal vehicles from all Potomac River bridge crossings from Virginia into the District and from interstates 395 and 66 inside the Capital Beltway on Inauguration Day.

The plan would also cordon off a large section of downtown Washington from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. to help manage the unprecedented crowds expected.

Some bridges and main thoroughfares with access to the city will remain open, including New York Avenue and the Sousa, Whitney Young and Benning Road bridges.

But Northern Virginia drivers will be able to reach the District only from the Beltway in Maryland, and officials are urging people not to attempt to drive into the city.

The bottom line, officials said, is to keep the Mall, the Capitol and the parade route clear of traffic. Even people who live in the District or can get in from Maryland or Virginia can't get anywhere near the inaugural events or the surrounding downtown area by car. Walking, biking and mass transit -- which is expected to be jammed -- will provide the only access.

From 2 a.m. to 7 p.m. Inauguration Day, the inbound lanes of Potomac River bridges will be reserved for buses, limousines, taxis and other "authorized vehicles." Transportation officials and police in Virginia will divert private vehicles on I-95 headed toward the city onto the Beltway at Springfield; drivers inbound on I-66 will also be diverted onto the Beltway.

The unprecedented wholesale closing of Washington area roads and bridges is necessary because of what officials expect to be record crowds for the inauguration of Barack Obama, who will become the nation's first African American president. Officials estimate that at least 1.5 million and possibly more than 3 million will attend the event.

Officials defended the closings, saying prudence outweighed inconvenience.

The Secret Service has closed many streets in the District that would normally carry traffic from the bridge crossings. As a result, "there isn't anyplace to go," said City Administrator Dan Tangherlini.

Virginia State Police Col. W. Steven Flaherty said personal vehicles will be barred from driving into the District because of restrictions on the other side of the river and because of the likelihood that I-395 and other roadways "would basically become parking lots" if access were not limited.

Moreover, he said, in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency, it would be easier to evacuate people from the city if the roadways were kept as empty as possible.

"Folks have got to make alternate plans, and we need to start making them now," Flaherty said. "As you know, Northern Virginia has a great deal of traffic on a good day. So when we add the numbers of traffic that we may have on Inauguration Day . . . we could have unprecedented traffic congestion unless we all plan, and we all plan together, right now."

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