Motorists approaching Capitol Hill experienced short delays this morning because of closed roads and security checkpoints instituted last night as part of the area's heightened terrorist threat level.
Traffic was slowed as well near the World Bank and International Monetary Fund buildings in the Foggy Bottom section of Northwest, where some streets have been closed.
In Foggy Bottom, traffic was backed up two to three blocks in a single lane at about 9:30 a.m. as drivers waited for their cars to be screened to enter the underground garage of the IMF building on 20th Street. Traffic also was jammed trying to turn from 20th Street toward the White House complex on F and G streets, apparently because of police checkpoints on 18th Street.
The security measures on the Hill surprised and angered top city officials, who said they would lead to gridlock and discourage tourism in the nation's capital.
This morning, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, complained that the city was "not part of the decision-making process" leading to the security measures around the Capitol.
Answering reader questions in an online discussion with washingtonpost.com, Ramsey said: "We are deeply concerned that these checkpoints will have a tremendous impact on traffic in surrounding neighborhoods, especially when more people are back at work and school in the fall.
"In the future," he said, "there needs to be coordination with the District government prior to any federal agency closing streets or changing traffic patterns."
But U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said the moves were necessary to protect the Capitol after the threat level for the city was raised on Sunday.
On the Hill and along the Mall, police began directing traffic into lanes marked by orange cones at 14 spots in Northeast Washington, particularly along First St., Second Street and Constitution and Independence avenues. (The full list of ongoing checkpoints and road closings was posted on the Capitol Hill police Web site | http://www.uscapitolpolice.gov/pressreleases/2004/pr_08-02-04.html.) Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford said that all vehicles at the checkpoints are "subject to some type of security screening."
The extent of the screening, she said, will depend on the type of vehicle, what the vehicle appears to be carrying and how easy -- or difficult -- it is for officers to look inside.
Drivers of cars with dark tinted windows, for example, will have to roll down their windows or open doors for inspection, she said.
Near the Hart Senate Office Building this morning, eight uniformed officers were slowing down cars for inspection but stopping only some. Some drivers chosen for inspection were asked to get out of their vehicles and open their car trunks.
At that and other locations, however, the process appeared to be taking an average of about five minutes.
Gainer said last night that First Street NE between Constitution Avenue and D Street NE -- which runs between two of the Senate office buildings -- would be shut down indefinitely, starting this morning.
D.C. officials blasted the Capitol Hill action pointed out that the Capitol and Supreme Court were not mentioned in the announcement Sunday by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that raised the threat level in the District, New York and Newark. Ridge singled out the financial districts in those locations, including the IMF and World Bank.
But Gainer said the alert level had been raised for the entire city and that the report of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States had indicated that the Capitol building was a target of al Qaeda.
"There has been ongoing concern about the Capitol," Gainer said. "The 9/11 Commission report indicated the great likelihood that the Capitol was a target. We see the intelligence that terrorists would like to strike the United States and the Capitol of the United States."