Nuclear Security Summit promises gridlock for downtown D.C.

By Ashley Halsey III, Michael E. Ruane and Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 8, 2010

The largest security curtain since Inauguration Day will descend on Washington beginning Sunday, closing enough downtown streets to cause two days of gridlock and remind people that living at the center of world political power comes at a price.

More than 40 heads of states will descend on the Washington Convention Center on Monday and Tuesday for a Nuclear Security Summit that will create massive traffic headaches in one of the city's central commuting corridors. A vast perimeter will be in place to protect President Obama and other world leaders as they discuss how to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists.

"There's a potential here to make [the inauguration] look like child's play," said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "This is going to be during business hours, when Washington is a live, bustling city."

Thirteen bus routes will be detoured around the area; Green and Yellow line Metro trains will bypass Mount Vernon Square Station; and traffic on two major arteries -- New York and Massachusetts avenues -- will be an utter mess until the meeting adjourns Tuesday night.

"Motorists need to expect the unexpected," Anderson said. "There will be delays. There will be roads closed. There will be detours. It is not going to be a good time for mobility in Washington."

According to guidelines issued by government agencies, residents will be required to show photo ID to reach their homes, and they and their guests -- and anything they are carrying -- will be screened. Secret Service spokesman Max Milien said that screenings could include bag searches and other measures and that authorities could also screen anyone on the "outskirts" of the security zone who "appears suspicious."

Jerome Washington, 24, of the McCollough Terrace Apartments, inside the security zone, said he was upset at the extensive restrictions for the summit, an attempt to create momentum for the effort to safeguard nuclear material. The summit is also expected to focus on ways to combat nuclear smuggling. Obama pledged during his campaign to lock down all "loose" nuclear material worldwide within four years.

"You know you don't have no power when outside forces come in and do stuff like this," Washington said. "You've been living here your whole life. You finally know you don't have power when somebody you don't know . . . just can come, block off everything, and don't even ask you."

Some residents and business owners said there was confusion over details of the security arrangements.

A lunch cart vendor wondered whether she would be allowed to leave her cart at Seventh and M streets NW if she took it there Sunday afternoon. Some residents said they knew little of what was happening. Samuel Thomas, whose mother lives in an apartment complex across Seventh Street from the convention center, wondered when authorities were going to provide residents of his mother's building with details.

Several businessmen said authorities had scheduled a briefing for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Ballroom A of the convention center to explain the arrangements to residents.

Charles Chong, the manager of Bar 7, in the 1000 block of Seventh Street, said he was resigned to the situation. "What can you say? You're next to the convention center."

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