On Roads, Awe Instead of Anger
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 31, 1998; Page C07
Washington area drivers decided to take traffic jams and delays in stride yesterday as they pulled onto the shoulders of busy interstates and sat patiently on blocked city streets to watch the cortege for slain U.S. Capitol Police Detective John M. Gibson roll by.
Even though the funeral procession blocked traffic for up to 45 minutes on streets near the 35-mile route from Prince William County to the District to Arlington National Cemetery, few drivers seemed to mind. The tie-ups, which occurred in the late morning and early afternoon, dissipated before the afternoon rush hour.
Officials said they hoped that traffic would move as smoothly today after the funeral for Gibson's fallen colleague, Officer Jacob J. Chestnut. Chestnut's service at 10 a.m. at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington will be followed by a similar procession to Arlington Cemetery.
"Everything went very smoothly," said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, which estimated that Gibson's cortege stretched 14 miles. "No one complained to us about traffic, and the only calls we got were about people pulling over onto the shoulders to watch."
Gibson's procession traveled northward in the Interstate 395 car-pool lanes, which were closed to all other traffic at 10 a.m. Southbound traffic on Interstate 395 was at a crawl near Duke Street as motorists slowed to watch the oncoming cortege, but there was no impatient honking of horns, just respectful silence.
"While congestion was heavy at the typical spots, traffic moved once the procession moved," Morris said. "And if there was congestion, people really didn't seem to care."
Erich Cluxton and his family, tourists from North Carolina, who were stopped about 1 p.m. on Madison Drive near 14th Street, said they had expected the traffic to be clear by 12:30 p.m., but they were unfazed by the delay.
"It's appropriate that these men be appropriately honored, and our inconvenience is minor," Cluxton said.
Nancy Fries, 38, of Lake Ridge, who also was held up on Madison, pointed out the long line of police cars to her two young sons and took the opportunity to tell them a little about the shootings.
"I don't want to scare them," Fries said. "I just want to show respect like everybody else."
Cabdriver Surat S. Mastwai said a trip from Reagan National Airport to the Reagan Building in downtown Washington, which would typically take five minutes, stretched to 45 minutes because so many roads were closed.
"They usually don't block so many exits like they did today," Mastwai said. "I just told my passenger it was a police officer's funeral."
In the District, where cross streets along the Mall were closed for 45 minutes, some of the worst congestion occurred on east-west routes that parallel Constitution Avenue and already carry heavy traffic, such as H and I streets. But even those areas began easing by midafternoon.
When mourners dispersed after the burial at Arlington, few traffic problems materialized on neighborhood streets, officials said.
"Everything went really well," said Steve Kuciemba, who heads SmarTraveler, a traffic information service that monitored the situation yesterday. "You can chalk it up to the fact that this was a planned event that people could make arrangements to avoid if they wished."
It's also summertime, when there is about 20 percent less traffic on area roadways, traffic analysts estimate.
"When the volume is not there, things tend to get better quickly," said traffic reporter Bob Marbourg of radio station WTOP.
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