On a typical weekday, close to 2 million people commute to the nation’s capital, snarling the highways and packing subway trains and buses during peak hours.
Now imagine doubling, or tripling, that for the inauguration.
"I don’t want in any way to discourage anyone," said District of Columbia City Administrator Dan Tangherlini. "I just don’t want them to come and be completely shocked by what they find."
It won’t be pleasant, Tangherlini and other officials warn. The Washington area’s transit system is telling passengers to expect extraordinarily long lines for railcars and buses on Jan. 20. Those flying into the region will arrive at airports bustling with extra flights. And traffic on the roads could be at a standstill as motorists cope with street and bridge closings. Those who do manage to arrive in Washington will find limited parking.
Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman, put it simply: "Pack your patience."
To accommodate the crowds, Amtrak is expanding service on the northeast corridor between Boston and Washington on Inauguration Day. Southwest Airlines is adding 26 flights to and from the region between Jan. 17 and Jan. 23. Delta Air Lines and its subsidiary, Northwest Airlines, are adding more than 5,000 seats Jan. 16 and Jan. 21 by using larger aircraft on existing flights. Airport officials say they will add staff to help guide travelers.
Virginia State Police plan to bring troopers from across the state to monitor expected gridlock outside Washington, Geller said. Maryland transportation officials are urging truck drivers and other commercial drivers to avoid the area.
The best advice, authorities and inaugural organizers say, is to prepare for the unexpected.