Funeral Processions Likely to Snarl Traffic
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 1998; Page D01
Today's funeral procession for slain U.S. Capitol Police Detective John M. Gibson will be at least 12 miles long as it travels a 35-mile route from Prince William County to Arlington National Cemetery, and motorists should expect traffic tie-ups for much of the day, police said.
The cortege will start at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Prince William's Lake Ridge section, after Gibson's funeral at the church at 10 a.m., then proceed up Shirley Highway to the U.S. Capitol and along the Mall, reaching the cemetery in the early afternoon. Dozens of extra police officers have been called in to deal with expected traffic snarls on adjacent roads.
About 1,000 police cruisers will take part in the procession, and there may be hundreds more cars driven by civilians, said Kim Chinn, a spokeswoman for the Prince William police. Four Metro buses will carry U.S. lawmakers and Capitol Hill police officers and staff members, according to a Metro spokeswoman.
Similar tie-ups will occur tomorrow, when Gibson's colleague, Officer Jacob J. Chestnut, is buried at Arlington. Chestnut's funeral procession will leave from Fort Washington, after a 10 a.m. service at Ebenezer AME Church, then move along Allentown Road, Indian Head Highway and Interstate 295 before reaching the District.
Prince George's County police are asking drivers to stay off Allentown Road this afternoon and evening during a viewing for Chestnut at the church, at 7707 Allentown Rd. in Fort Washington, and again tomorrow morning before and after the funeral.
People "should keep all of this in mind when they make travel plans," said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell. "They should make other arrangements if possible. . . . But due to the solemnity of the occasion, I don't think people will be complaining, either."
To help mourners make their way to Seton Church this morning for Gibson's funeral, police will direct traffic at the Route 123 exits from Interstate 95, starting at 8 a.m., and also will be at every intersection along the five-mile route to the church, Chinn said.
Officials will close Shirley Highway's 35 miles of car-pool lanes to all traffic at 10 a.m., reserving them for the funeral procession. The lanes are expected to reopen for southbound traffic about 12:30 p.m., as they normally would, officials said.
When the procession reaches the District and moves along Independence Avenue to the Capitol and then along Constitution Avenue to Arlington Memorial Bridge, traffic on cross streets will be blocked along the route, according to U.S. Park Police.
Officials estimated that the church service will end at 11 a.m. and that the burial at Arlington will take place about 12:30 p.m. But they were not sure about those times, and there also was uncertainty about how long the procession will be and its ultimate effect on area traffic.
"The big question mark is how big is the procession going to be. That's going to drive in large part how many traffic problems there are," said Steve Kuciemba, who runs the Smart Travel traffic information service for the region. "We're going to tell people to avoid the area."
Prince William police base their estimate of a 12-mile-long procession on the funeral three years ago of William H. Christian Jr., an FBI agent slain during a stakeout.
About 2,000 mourners attended his funeral, also at Seton Church, and southbound I-95 was blocked for a half-hour to allow the procession to go the 12 miles to Quantico National Cemetery. According to Chinn, the first car arrived at the cemetery as the last one was leaving the church.
"This funeral could draw three times as many people," Chinn said. "We've had police units from Texas and even from England call to say they are coming. We really don't know exactly how many people will be here."
Officials at Arlington Cemetery said they are planning for a procession that is about four miles long. There is no parking lot in the cemetery, and mourners will have to park along the roadways.
"A lot of people will want to pay their respects," said Dov Schwartz, a spokesman for the Military District of Washington. "Getting close to the grave will be difficult."
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