Headed to DC for the inauguration? AAA offers travel tips

white houseIt is a tradition as storied and nearly as old as the Republic itself. This Friday, America celebrates the 58th Presidential Inauguration with fanfare, Pomp and Circumstance, the presidential oath taking, a military band striking up the chords of “Hail to the Chief” in a peaceful transfer of power. That evening expect thousands of revelers in tuxedoes and evening gowns hitching a ride to splendid inaugural balls aboard Metrorail. As these iconic moments unfold, the security and safety measures attendant the event will be unprecedented. Know before you go to the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump. Be aware of travel and security restrictions. Since driving is not recommended, it is a pedestrian event. So it is best to go  “afoot and light-hearted,” in the words of Walt Whitman, or use the Metrorail 2017 Inauguration Celebration “trip planner,” and plan accordingly.

The first Presidential Inauguration was held in New York City 228 years ago, on April 30, 1789. Prior to this week’s swearing-in, the oath has been taken “71 different times by the 44 Presidents of the United States,” notes the Joint Congressional Committee on the Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC). This time around, expect huge crowds on the region’s transit systems, along the Inaugural parade route and on sidewalks. Some estimates indicate the number of persons attending the quadrennial festivities will approach 500,000 to 800,000. Also plan for rolling road closures, heavy charter bus traffic, congestion, and the strictest security measures and protocols official Washington has witnessed from the west front of the U.S. Capitol to the National Mall since the last Presidential Inauguration in 2013 and the Papal Visit of Pope Francis in 2015.

“This is a foot traffic event. Parking will be restricted on more than 60 street segments in the nation’s capital and vehicle traffic will be restricted on nearly 200 street segments within the District,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Although many celebrants and out-of-town visitors will drive to Metro stations for the trip downtown, motorists should keep a full-tank of gasoline in their vehicles, just in case they are stranded or stuck in traffic. Inauguration goers should have a fully charged cell phone. Because use may be limited, send a text message for AAA Roadside Assistance.”

The first use of an automobile in an inaugural parade occurred in 1909. It makes little sense to drive your personal vehicle into the District for the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. Heavy traffic and road closures are expected on January 18th and 19th in preparation for Inauguration Day for the newly elected President and Vice President. Out-of-town visitors and area motorists and residents, plus those attending the festivities from afar, need to understand the full magnitude of the road and bridge closures and parking restrictions, as well as what their public transportation and parking options will be, and grasp they will be swiftly ticketed and summarily towed if they dare violate the security perimeters, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. Stay informed.

It is a “national security event.” Starting as early as Inauguration Eve all traffic will be diverted from the 14th Street non-HOV Bridge to I-395, and the 14th Street HOV Bridge will be closed to all traffic, as will the Memorial Bridge. In the hours leading up to the big event, the 3rd Street Tunnel will be closed to all traffic, so will the 9th Street Tunnel, the 12th Street Tunnel, and the E Street Tunnel. Although there are no anticipated road closures or restrictions on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, state officials are discouraging “individuals from driving into the District and encouraging the use of mass transit.” Officials with the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) are urging motorists to be prepared for stopped traffic.

“Walking is the best mode of transportation” to the 58th Presidential Inauguration. No doubt, the historic event will bring hundreds of thousands of travelers from around the country and across the globe. Those who live and work in Washington, D.C. proper and surrounding areas also will be impacted. Here is a word to the wise; do your homework. Be prepared, be informed and be patient! As every Washingtonian knows, Presidential Inaugurations hold the potential for significant impacts on transportation networks. On Inauguration Day, Metrorail “will open early at 4:00 a.m. with near rush-hour service on all lines until 9 p.m.

Although federal, state and local officials are asking eyewitnesses to history to walk or to take public transportation, including the Metrorail and Metrobus, thousands of persons will drive to Metro stations, which boast about 60,000 parking spaces, and then travel downtown. Although it is officially a federal holiday, parking fees will be charged at Metro stations and parking lots on Inauguration Day. “If parking at a Metrorail facility, Metro recommends paying with a credit card (no extra fee will be charged if a credit card is used on Inauguration Day).” If Metro’s 22 parking garages and its 29 parking lots are filled to the brim, don’t park your car on the side of the road. It will be a big mistake. The Maryland State Police, for example, is warning it will immediately “tow any abandoned or illegally parked vehicles along state and interstate routes.”

Be prepared for decreased travel time reliability. Two days before the Inauguration, security crews will place “no parking” signs along the perimeters, and parking enforcement will begin. Motorists who park in the wrong place at the wrong time will be ticketed and their vehicles will be towed, starting at 12 p.m., Wednesday, January 18 and ending on Monday, January 23 at 1 a.m. within the “hard perimeter.” Street closures will begin as early as inauguration eve, Thursday, January 19, within the “red zone.” Travelers in and around the nation’s capital and the entire national capital area should expect extensive delays, road and garage closures, security measures, last minute delays, and changes.  The following Metro stations will be closed:

  • Smithsonian (Orange, Silver and Blue lines), Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter (Green and Yellow lines) and Pentagon (Blue and Yellow lines) will be closed on Inauguration Day.
  • Federal Triangle (Orange, Silver and Blue lines) and Mount Vernon Square- 7th St-Convention Center (Green and Yellow lines) will be closed throughout the 24 hours of the inauguration.

The Joint Congressional Committee on the Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) and Destination DC expect hundreds of thousands of spectators on the National Mall. Destination DC is advising: “If you are using a ride sharing app such as Uber or Lyft, there will be a geofence around the security perimeter, meaning the apps will not work inside it. Attendees using the services will have to leave the perimeter to get picked up.”

The big question is, will the region see “sharp drops in rush-hour congestion on area roadways,” as it did, surprisingly, during the 2015 Papal visit? Here is the one saving grace for all the congestion and crowds. Inauguration Day 2017 has been declared a paid federal holiday for federal workers in the “District of Columbia, Montgomery or Prince George’s Counties in Maryland, Arlington or Fairfax Counties in Virginia, or the cities of Alexandria or Fairfax in Virginia,” explains the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Here is the upshot. It is all about ingress and egress during peak periods. Monitor traffic conditions in and out of Washington, D.C. This is not the time to improvise.  So have a game plan for visiting and traveling around Washington D.C. during inauguration week. Parking will be extremely limited in the city and vehicular traffic will be restricted. Stay informed, and get Inauguration updates on social media sites at #inaug2017.

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