Gray to Secret Service: Don’t close 14th Street

Amanda Iacone and Thomas Warren,

WASHINGTON – D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is blaming the Secret Service for a late morning traffic jam downtown Tuesday tied to road closures along 14th Street, closures which the District announced Saturday.

Road closures along F and 14th Streets plus motorcades headed toward the Washington Convention Center caused traffic jams that quickly spread throughout downtown and included backups along Interstate 66, Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive. Soon after, Gray fired off a letter to the Secret Service complaining of poor planning that led to the traffic headaches.

The road closures and motorcades stemmed from the AIPAC conference being held at the Washington Convention Center, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday.

In his letter to the Secret Service, Gray says he was “outraged” that the southbound lanes on 14th Street NW were closed for several blocks saying it was an inconvenience “to tens of thousands of District workers and visitors.”

Gray, who is running for re-election and faces a crowded primary field next month, also questioned the decision to lodge visiting dignitaries in a hotel that “results in significant portions of downtown Washington being paralyzed by traffic.”

He asked the service to work with his staff and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to improve security arrangements and the handling of future road closures.

“We work with Metropolitan police when implementing security plans, and we try to minimize traffic gridlock to the best of our abilities,” a Secret Service spokesman said in a statement to WTOP.

While security details for visiting state officials are classified, law enforcement officials say the Secret Service doesn’t choose the hotels dignitaries stay in.

Gray notes in his letter that the Blair House, which is on the northwest side of the White House and is reserved for guests of the president, is closed for renovation.

Motorcades and road closures for rallies, protests and parades are regular occurrences downtown and occasionally tie up traffic on weekdays and weekends alike. Metropolitan police are responsible for closing District streets for such events and coordinate with federal agencies regularly.

MPD issued press releases Saturday announcing the street closures along F and 14th streets and along L Street in front of the convention center.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has spoken with the Secret Service director, says Deputy Mayor Paul Quander.

“I’m sure we’ll be able to work things out in a collaborative fashion where we’re more involved and better prepared,” Quander says. “We understand the need to protect dignitaries in the nation’s capital, but we want to do so in a manner in which our citizens, workers and visitors are disrupted as little as possible.”

Some motorists stuck in the traffic took to Twitter:

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