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Tri-State braces for inauguration traffic

January 12, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

o Inauguration travel tips

TRI-STATE - The worst congestion associated with President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration will be in Washington, D.C., but with millions of people expected to attend the event, local authorities are preparing for what could happen in Washington County and elsewhere in the area.

Although Hagerstown is more than an hour from Washington, the effect will be felt here as people fill area motels or travel to reach the nation's capital, officials said.

"They're staying as far away as Cumberland" in Allegany County, Md., Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said.

On top of the people staying in the area because of the inauguration, police anticipate other motorists will drive through the region from points west of the area on their way to the nation's capital, said Maryland State Police 1st Sgt. Kevin Lewis, who is stationed in Hagerstown.

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Such travelers will funnel onto highways running through Washington County, including Interstate 70, Lewis said.

"There's only so many ways to get to Washington, D.C.," Lewis said.

Lewis said it is tough to determine how many people might pass through the area or when, noting that travelers could hit Washington County in a concentrated time frame or over a few days.

"Of course, that would be the best situation," Lewis said of the latter scenario.

Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said county officials are not anticipating any problems with Inauguration Day travel.

But critical-response people will be on standby in case any emergencies arise, he said.

Allen said news stories about expected heavy congestion in Washington on Inauguration Day hopefully have convinced some people to stay home.

"You're not going to be able to park a block away," Allen said.

With millions expected to converge on Washington for Obama's historic inauguration, congestion in the nation's capital is expected to reach unprecedented levels, state officials said. Part of the lead-up to the event will be Obama's arrival in Washington by train, with stops along the way in Wilmington, Del., Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Local police, state and Washington officials are offering tips to people planning on attending inauguration activities, as well as to those not attending activities, in hopes of keeping problems to a minimum.

Lewis suggested local residents who usually commute to work in the Washington area give it a second thought on Inauguration Day.

Any commuters who have leave time coming to them should consider using it that day, Lewis said.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the primary state agency for inaugural activities, suggests those who commute to the Washington area for work consider telecommuting on Jan. 20 if possible.

Normal commuter traffic is heavy on Interstates 70 and 270 starting about 5:30 a.m. during the week, Mullendore said. Eastbound traffic on those roads probably will be very heavy between 7 and 9 a.m. on Jan. 20 as inauguration-bound traffic blends in with commuters, Mullendore said.

Police plan to monitor the situation closely and, in the case of accidents, will work to clear lanes as quickly as possible, Mullendore said. Beyond that, there are no special plans to manage the situation, he said.

"We don't anticipate there is much we can do," Mullendore said.

"Inaugural attendees should understand that no matter what mode of transportation you are planning to use, movement in and out of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area on Inauguration Day is expected to be extremely challenging," according to the Web site www.mdot.state.md.us/2009PresidentialInaugurationInfo.html.

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