D.C. officials ready for pope, but warn of traffic delays

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis’ visit to D.C., which begins Tuesday and runs through Thursday afternoon, is expected to draw thousands of people to the areas around the Capitol and White House during the pontiff’s appearances there. The District’s transportation officials say they’re ready for the crush, but they add that you need to be ready too — for delays and road closures.

Leif Dormsjo, director of the District Department of transportation, tells WTOP on Monday that the pope’s visit poses a unique challenge: The District is no stranger to big events, but, for example, the Fourth of July is a holiday, as was President Barack Obama’s first inaugural (it fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day).

Francis’ visit, on the other hand, is a three-day event falling in the middle of the workweek.

“We’re trying to accommodate a lot of different users of the transit and traffic systems,” he says.

Dormsjo says the city want to encourage folks to participate in papal events, but says they need to be prepared.

“The traffic is going to be really challenging. You’ve got to plan ahead, and you have to expect some delays.”

The federal government and other employers have encouraged workers to telework wherever possible, and Dormsjo adds that those heading into town should look into Metro’s trains and buses. If you have no alternative to driving, “you’ve got to budget some more time.”

You can arm yourself with facts by going to pope.dc.gov, as well as WTOP.com, to find the latest on where and when roads will be closed, where to see Pope Francis on video screens, what not to bring and other information.

The exhortation to take Metro has been pretty widespread. So how ready is Metro?

“I think we’re ready,” interim General Manager Jack Requa says. “We’ve been preparing for weeks.”

He tells WTOP Metro has been getting extra rail cars ready, and “getting messages out to our customers that they need to make plans.”

About 70 bus routes are going to be affected by road closures, Requa says. Metro is setting up terminals on the edges of the restricted areas, with “people there to advise [riders] as to how to move through the system to get to where they need to be.” If a train is an appropriate solution for a rider whose route has been cut off from going through the center of the city, Requa says, he’ll be given a free transfer for a train to go “through the city and catch the bus on the other end.”

With a lot of first-time and infrequent Metro riders expected, Requa says that Metro will have “extra people at the key stations” to help direct people.

Still, planning ahead will be critical. Most importantly, Requa says, “get your SmartTrip card in advance and put sufficient money on it.”

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Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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