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Virginians See Bridge Closings As Dose of Northern Hospitality

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By Eric M. Weiss and Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 9, 2009

Never mind that Virginia was the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents. Or that it was here that representative democracy took its first fledgling steps in the New World. When Virginians learned that the U.S. Secret Service and other top officials had decided to bar personal vehicles from every bridge from the commonwealth into the District on Inauguration Day, many felt the underlying message to them was this: Drop dead.

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Or: Stay home.

Or: If you're going to try to come and see the first African American sworn in as president of the United States, well, good luck.

"First was the hysteria of announcing over 4 million people might be flooding the Mall. Later, they amend that number by half. Then they announce there will be no parking, few toilets and that everyone will be standing and waiting for hours. Then they tell people not to bring children and, finally, they close all the bridges," fumed Virginian Holly Kenney. "Do they think we're dense? Clearly, the public is no longer welcome."

But to some business and political leaders in the region, the plan represents more than a snub. They are concerned that the unprecedented closings and restrictions will turn away visitors, hurt businesses and employees, and tip the balance too far toward security over access.

The plan unveiled by the Secret Service and area transportation officials Wednesday closes all Virginia bridges across the Potomac and interstates 395 and 66 inside the Beltway to personal vehicles. It also cordons off a large section of downtown Washington to help manage the unprecedented crowds expected. Maryland, in contrast, has no planned road closures.

"The Secret Service, they're insane," said U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-Alexandria). "This is security on steroids. They are imposing major obstacles on people who have a right to be there for the inauguration."

But even Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) signed off on the plan.

"I think it's a good idea," Kaine said yesterday in a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. "Closing 66 and 395 . . . was the right thing to do for the logistics to make the inauguration work."

Malcolm Wiley, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said 58 agencies were involved in crafting the security plan, including representatives from 15 agencies in Maryland, Virginia and the District who participated in the transportation and traffic subcommittee.

"Never, in putting together the plan, was a thought given to keep people from coming. It is that they be safe," Wiley said. "We are not restricting anyone from coming. . . . The only thing we restricted is personal vehicles."

But some Virginians were taking it personally.


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