National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony brings holiday cheer, traffic disruptions

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, Marian Robinson, Reese Witherspoon
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters Sasha, and Malia, and Michelle’s mother Marian Robinson, react as they light the National Christmas Tree during the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. On the far left on stage is actress Reese Witherspoon. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (AP)
Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, Marian Robinson, Reese Witherspoon
President Barack Obama with first lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters Sasha, and Malia, and Michelle’s mother Marian Robinson, after lighting the National Christmas Tree during the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. On the far left is actress Reese Witherspoon. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (AP)
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Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, Marian Robinson, Reese Witherspoon
Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, Marian Robinson, Reese Witherspoon

WASHINGTON — The National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony is taking place on the Ellipse this Thursday evening. It’s a joyous occasion for many, but some downtown commuters aren’t so pleased.

The annual tradition includes the closure of 15th and 17th streets between New York and Independence avenues. The National Park Service says the closures will be in effect from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. The ceremony begins at 5 p.m.

Police also say Constitution Avenue will be blocked between 14th and 18th streets. 

In general, “If we’re given the information as to what we need to avoid, then we can go for the routes that remain open,” says Bob Marbourg, a veteran traffic reporter for WTOP.

When faced with blockades and congestion downtown, Marbourg says drivers need to be clever.

“If 15th and 17th are closed on either side of the Ellipse, then heading southbound from K [Street] on 19th or southbound from 9th Street will probably get you around it,” he says.

“Everybody else is going to think of that. You need to outthink the competition and perhaps do a little bit of an end run.”

A few Metrobus routes — including the 30N, 30S and 36 — will be detoured around the closures.

“Try and avoid the area,” says Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles with the National Park Service.  “What’s most important for drivers to know is to maybe plan an alternate route in the evening when they’re leaving work to avoid some of those closures.”

Several other municipal buses will also be affected. Loudoun County Transit says that its downtown bus service incurred 10- to 45-minute delays during last year’s ceremony.

Attendees with tickets should look for the entrance located on 17th Street.

Police urge guests headed to the ceremony to use public transportation and Metrorail to reach the event. The Farragut North and West Metro stations are closest to President’s Park.

The star-studded lineup includes Fall Out Boy, Andra Day, Tori Kelly, Trombone Shorty, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Aloe Blacc, Kelsea Ballerini, and Joyous String Quartet.

People who are interested in receiving emergency alerts and updates from the National Park Service about the National Christmas Tree Lighting can text NCTL2015 to 8887777.

The free Community Information Service provides special event information and emergency alerts via email or text message. Carrier message rates may apply.

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