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The 'Unprecedented' Challenges of Inauguration Day

Dan Tangherlini may have used the word "unprecedented" an unprecedented number of times in describing the region's Inauguration Day preparations.

The D.C. city administrator said that the level of regional cooperation was unprecedented. But so was the scale of the event. "The region is going to be impacted at unprecedented levels," he said. One of the symptoms is the "unprecedented level of tour buses" likely to arrive by Tuesday morning.

As part of the regional cooperation to control traffic volume, Virginia took the "unprecedented" step of announcing it would shut portions of two interstates and restrict other roadways.

For its part, the District plans to take the "unprecedented step of opening up the Third Street Tunnel" to pedestrians on Tuesday. Virginia came right back at that, and "took the unprecedented step of providing free Metrobuses" on certain routes that would help get people to and from Tuesday's ceremonies.

Get the feeling this is big? So did some of the region's leaders as they listened on Wednesday to Tangherlini's presentation at the Council of Governments headquarters near Union Station.

Many had good questions and comments. Penelope Gross, the new chairman of the council, asked about plans that would accommodate the elderly and frail. Like most officials involved in the transportation plan, Tangherlini advised people to be realistic about how much standing, walking and standing they could handle.

This is an outdoor event. This is Washington in the winter. "That's not to be inhospitable," he said. "It's just to be factual."

Gross expressed the concern shared by many that people caught up in the magnitude of the upcoming events "will follow their emotions rather than their heads" in deciding how much physical exertion they can handle in getting to the ceremonies and back home.

Tangherlini added this note of realism for people heading to the morning swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol and the afternoon parade on Pennsylvania Avenue: "Chances are slim that they'll be able to make the transition from the swearing-in to the parade route," he said. So what should you do?

"Pick your event," Tangherlini said.

But some of the council's questions and comments reflected just how difficult it is to get a grip on the plan. One member, for example, refered to the "bridges being closed." Officials who drew up the transportation plan are trying to get out a very different message.

They want you to know the bridges are open. They hope those bridges will bring many thousands of people into Washington. They just don't want them to arrive in cars. Instead, the bridges will be open to buses, taxis, walkers and bikers in various configurations. (See the Walking to the Inauguration map by Bonnie Berkowitz from Sunday's Commuter page. And here's a Metro map showing the special bus corridors.)

Council members were very interested in the many Web links now available for inauguration information. One thing I'm noticing: There are so many sites and so much new information coming out every day that it takes a while for all the sites to catch up with the new information. When you look at a page, check around to see how recently it has been updated. And keep coming back to sites over the next few days to look for the latest information.

On our site, you'll find the latest transportation information here and at Inauguration Central.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 15, 2009; 7:52 AM ET
Categories:  Inauguration  
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