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Smaller Crowds May Ease Security Problems

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Metro planners are estimating a crowd of 500,000 to 800,000 for the 2013 inauguration festivities. That’s roughly half the attendance in 2009, when an estimated 1.5 million people turned out for President Barack Obama ’s first swearing-in, pictured above.

Organizers of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration say they’ve made changes in security and logistics that should prevent some of the problems seen in 2008, but the size of the crowd, expected to be vastly smaller than four years ago, could be the biggest factor that determines how smoothly things run.

The president’s first inauguration saw an estimated 1.8 million people descend on the city, but this year’s projections are much lower — 800,000 at the top end. While that’s a relief to some organizers and security overseers, it’s not good news for everyone.

“We get tax revenue from people who come to the District, so we want those 1.8 million people,” said Charles Allen, a spokesman for D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells. He acknowledged, however, that the smaller number of visitors will be less of a challenge for planners. “People get the sense that it’ll be easier to manage than the crush of people four years ago.”

Security officials said they’re approaching this inauguration as seriously as the last one, adding that they have no information pointing to credible threats to the event.

Some procedures, however, have changed thanks to the lower projected turnout. While 2009 saw most of the bridges that connect the city to Virginia closed, only the Memorial Bridge will be limited to foot traffic this year. Some, including the South Capitol Street Bridge and the Chain Bridge, will remain open, while others, such as the 14th Street Bridge, will be diverted or restricted.

The areas around the Capitol, White House and National Mall will still be subject to widespread road closures and have set pedestrian walking routes running through them. At the Capitol, organizers are reaching the final stages of preparation, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said.

“I won’t say we’re completely ready yet, but we’re close,” he said Wednesday. “If I had to put a number on it, I’d say we’re 95 percent there. People are going through and checking things like lighting, the carpet, security issues. It’s like a wedding. You’re working just about up to church time.”

What all of the event’s organizers are looking to avoid this year is another “Purple Tunnel of Doom,” where 1,000 ticketed attendees were stuck in the Third Street Tunnel and missed the 2009 inauguration ceremony.

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