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Inaugural Shutdown Of Downtown DC Extensive

Federal officials announced plans yesterday to close roughly 100 square blocks of downtown Washington to vehicles on Inauguration Day and to restrict traffic on another 100 square blocks.
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Federal officials announced plans yesterday to close roughly 100 square blocks of downtown Washington to vehicles on Inauguration Day and to restrict traffic on another 100 square blocks.

Motorists should prepare for detours and delays even before President Bush is sworn in for a second term Jan. 20. Some streets will be closed Sunday as officials stage a dress rehearsal of the inaugural parade. Others will be closed from time to time starting Tuesday as Bush and other dignitaries head to concerts, receptions and other events.

Pennsylvania Avenue NW -- the parade route -- will be closed after 6 p.m. Jan. 19 for security, as workers remove streetlights and weld shut manhole covers, D.C. police said.

Bush is to take the oath of office in a noontime ceremony at the Capitol on Jan. 20. Throughout the day and into the night, much of downtown will be off-limits to motorists. The restrictions cover Second Street east of the Capitol to 23rd Street to the west, extending roughly between E Street south of the Capitol and K Street to the north, plus an area around the Washington Convention Center.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge acknowledged yesterday that security plans go well beyond those undertaken in 2001, when Bush was first sworn in. This is the widest planned shutdown of the core business district in memory, and Ridge said authorities intend to be "as prepared as possible."

"You can well imagine that the security for this occasion will be unprecedented," said Ridge, who gave an overview of plans in a briefing near the Capitol. "Our goal is that any attempt on the part of anyone or any group to disrupt the inaugural will be repelled by multiple layers of security."

For the first inauguration after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officials plan to deploy 6,000 law enforcement officers and 7,000 U.S. troops. Roughly 60 federal, state and local agencies will handle security, led by the U.S. Secret Service.

Ridge's announcement came amid criticism from D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) that the federal government was forcing the District to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects to pay for the inauguration. Williams was scheduled to appear with Ridge yesterday but did not; aides said he was ill.

Ridge said the department had approved the District's use of homeland security grants intended for contingencies, such as police overtime when the national terror alert level is raised. Aides added that the District has received $240 million in homeland security aid over three years and that many federal assets were also being used this month.

Asked how much the federal government was paying for inauguration security, Ridge said: "It's in the millions, and I don't know how many millions. . . . We haven't calculated it yet."

To illustrate the magnitude of the undertaking, he and other Homeland Security officials literally assembled a dog-and-pony show for yesterday's briefing.

Ridge not only was surrounded by federal law enforcement, members of the military and local police chiefs, but he also was flanked by explosives-sniffing dog teams from the U.S. Army and by U.S. Park Police officers on horseback. Also on display: mobile command centers belonging to the Secret Service, the Federal Protective Service, the joint military command for Washington, the D.C. Emergency Management Agency and others.

Combat-ready troops with the 3rd Infantry Regiment showed off M-4 assault rifles and night-vision goggles, joining troops with a Marine Corps rapid chemical and biological agent reaction force and the Military District of Washington engineering company specializing in rescues from collapsed buildings.

Ridge acknowledged that U.S. authorities have received no information for several weeks to even consider raising the national terror threat level. Last spring, authorities predicted a high "election-year threat" continuing through the inauguration.

"There is no specific threat directed toward the inaugural or the inaugural activities," Ridge said. "But the fact that . . . the decibel level is down doesn't really mean that we would ever be less vigilant. . . . This is the most visible manifestation of our democracy."

Later, Secret Service officials announced the first details of the many restrictions to take effect.

The list of items prohibited from all event sites includes weapons of any kind, aerosols, supports for signs and placards, packages, coolers, thermal or glass containers, backpacks, laser pointers, bags larger than 8 inches by 6 inches by 4 inches and "any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard," the Secret Service said.

A dozen public entry points have been set for the tens of thousands of people who will be coming downtown for the parade, mostly within two blocks of the parade route, to open at 9 a.m. Jan. 20.

Some restrictions already are drawing complaints. The Christian Defense Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group, protested a ban on carrying crosses that could be used as weapons.

D.C. police announced the limits on vehicle traffic. All vehicles will be barred from a security zone starting late Wednesday, "no ifs, ands or buts," D.C. police Capt. Jeff Herold said. Hotel and office building garages will be inspected and shut inside the zone, which includes the area around the White House to the Capitol, plus around the Convention Center.

Most street parking will be barred from wider vehicle-restricted zones, and only people who can show they live or have legitimate "business that you can articulate" inside will be permitted to drive in, Herold said.

Authorities urged people to walk or use Metro on Inauguration Day. Limits will be relaxed in phases as Inauguration Day proceeds.

"We realize it is an inconvenience for one day, one partial day, even. We really hope everyone can wrap their arms around it and deal with the event as it is, and help us keep it as safe as possible for every citizen, business, attendee and demonstrator," Herold said.
 
 

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