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Key Bridge to Close for Moviemakers

By Alice Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 16, 1997

Movie cameras will be running on Key Bridge this Sunday, but traffic won't be, given the decision by D.C. and Virginia officials to close the busy bridge between Rosslyn and Georgetown for the entire day for the filming of a disaster movie.

While camera crews film scenes for the Steven Spielberg production "Deep Impact," the bridge will be closed from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. -- on a day when there also will be an open house at the new National Airport terminal three miles to the south. The open house, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, is expected to draw tens of thousands of people.

Georgetown is a popular destination for residents and tourists on weekends, especially in summer.

"We think we can handle the traffic," said Gary Burch, of the D.C. Department of Public Works, which agreed to closing the bridge at the request of government offices that promote the District and Virginia as movie locations.

The production company, Paramount/DreamWorks SKG, is paying for the installation of signs along M Street this week warning motorists of the closing, Burch said.

"Deep Impact," a movie about an impending collision between Earth and a comet, and starring Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman and Vanessa Redgrave, has most recently been on location in Manassas. There, thousands of cars jammed onto a stretch of not-yet-open roadway to simulate a traffic jam as terrified residents try to escape when the comet threatens Virginia Beach.

In the Key Bridge scene, which occurs early in the movie, a character is pulled over on the bridge by an unmarked car and hustled off to see an unknown government official, according to DreamWorks spokesman Stuart Fink.

Burch and Arlington officials, who also approved the bridge closing, say area residents needn't worry about a real traffic jam developing on Sunday, in spite of the National Airport open house and heavy weekend congestion on both sides of the bridge.

"It's not unusual for us to support two or three events at a time, especially when they are at different parts of the county," said Arlington County spokeswoman Sally Michaels.

Lon Anderson, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association's Potomac chapter, is not so sure that gridlock can be averted.

"I don't think we have an extra bridge across the Potomac to offer for an entire day of moviemaking," Anderson said.

"Key Bridge is a key to Georgetown, which is a pretty hopping place on the weekends. And of course Georgetown has terrible traffic jams. Plus I think the airport celebration could have an effect."

Proposed weekend road closings in the area of Key Bridge have often drawn controversy. In May, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt canceled a planned weekend morning closure of the northern portion of the George Washington Memorial Parkway to all but cyclists, citing the potential for traffic snarls.

And road closings for moviemaking have previously run afoul of drivers in Virginia. The state transportation department was forced to scrap plans to close part of Interstate 95 near Richmond for five hours on a Friday afternoon last September after federal highway officials warned of impending traffic backups and called the closing a "dumb idea."

Virginia officials later allowed Universal Pictures to film scenes for a remake of "The Day of the Jackal" at a rest area on a weekday morning.

Federal officials had no say in the Key Bridge decision, since the bridge does not carry an interstate highway. But James Cheatham, who oversees the federal interest in D.C. roadways, said yesterday that he expected an entire day's closing would create traffic problems.

"How're you going to deal with traffic?" he asked. "Hopefully, they've coordinated all this with D.C. and Virginia."

Traffic planners say that southbound and northbound traffic through Arlington headed for the Key Bridge will be diverted to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. M Street through Georgetown will remain open.

At National Airport, spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said she had not been aware of the planned bridge closing and hoped it would not create problems for the open house.

"We're urging people to take Metro," she said.

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