WASHINGTON – A perfect storm of events, including the papal visit, a Battle of the Beltways baseball series and a number of concerts, could lead to a major traffic mess next Wednesday.
At the root of it all, streets are set to close for Pope Francis’ visit to Washington from the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 22, through the late afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 24. At the same time, the Nationals and Orioles will complete a three game series at Nationals Park with 7:05 p.m. games Tuesday and Wednesday; Ed Sheeran is playing concerts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the Verizon Center, and, among other events, Joe Walsh of the Eagles is playing a Wednesday-night show at the Warner Theatre.
Tuesday night through sundown Wednesday also is the major Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, so there will be changes to usual traffic patterns around many synagogues in the area. The road closures, crowds and congestion will affect people who choose to drive to or look for parking for services at synagogues near areas with road closures across the city.
The combination of street closures for the pope’s visit – which some traffic engineers have warned could cause delays of nearly two hours on their own – with the concert and game day traffic could mean gridlock extending far outside the District’s borders.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the White House Wednesday morning before driving around the Ellipse and part of the National Mall in the Popemobile. Just as the afternoon rush gets underway, he is scheduled to celebrate a Mass outdoors at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The mass is scheduled to run from 4:15 p.m. to around 5:30 p.m., ending just in time to dump big crowds back onto the roads and Metro for the afternoon rush and a surge of baseball game or concert traffic.
It could mean that the best bet for concertgoers, baseball fans and commuters to cut down on crowds and delays is to reach their destinations, or be moving away from Northeast D.C., before 5:30 p.m. if possible. If there is one upside to the fact that the Nationals and Orioles could each be close to elimination from playoff contention by next week, it’s possible that the baseball crowds will be a bit smaller than otherwise expected for the regional-rivalry series.
Driving is expected to be tough: Backups resulting from National Mall closures are expected to stretch into Virginia at times; backups from closures near Catholic University Wednesday, into Maryland. On the other side of the city, the closures that begin Tuesday night on Massachusetts Avenue NW could cause problems for drivers from both sides of the Potomac.
While the Office of Personnel Management has recommended that federal employees telework during the pope’s visit Wednesday and Thursday, anyone who does have to come in will need to be aware of a significant number of transit changes as well as road closures.
Many commuter bus routes will go to and from Metro stations instead of their usual dropoff and pickup points in D.C. PRTC is charging reduced fares for their modified OmniRide service, but MTA Commuter Bus in Maryland is charging full fare. The changes will help those buses avoid some significant traffic and delays, but will also put even more people on Metro, which is already expected to be more crowded than usual.
Metro plans to run nearly rush hour-level rail service most of the day on Sept. 23 and 24. Metro cannot add trains during rush hour, since much of the system is already scheduled to operate at peak capacity.
Those limits on Metro, in addition to any delays that may occur, have the transit agency warning of big crowds and potential waits at fare machines.
Several Metrobus routes will change to end at Metro stations to avoid closures. Most importantly for those with tickets to Pope Francis’ Wednesday Mass, H-line buses that typically serve the Brookland Metro from Columbia Heights will instead end at Washington Hospital Center, about a mile from the Basilica.
Metro is offering free transfers from Metrobus to rail during the pope’s visit for passengers who ask their bus driver for a voucher and show it to a train station manager at the fare gates. Regular transfer discounts will apply when transferring from rail to bus, and regular parking rates will apply at Metro garages.
The DC Circulator will have special service on Wednesday between the Rhode Island Avenue Metro, 12th Street NE and Monroe Street NE, and the Fort Totten Metro Station. 12th and Monroe is approximately half a mile from the Basilica; the Rhode Island Avenue station, about a mile. Fort Totten, Georgia Avenue and Columbia Heights Metro stations are each about 2 miles from the Basilica for people able to walk there to avoid the transfer to or from the Red Line. The H-line buses from the Washington Hospital Center to Columbia Heights or the Circulator will be other options.
The Metrobus impact Wednesday in that area is expected to last from midnight to about 9 p.m.
Virginia Railway Express and MARC plan regular service while the pope is in Washington. MARC plans to add extra rail cars to some of its trains.
The first road closures scheduled to affect traffic Tuesday are the stretches of Massachusetts Ave. NW and 34th St. NW in front of the Papal Nunciature, north of Waterside Drive near the Naval Observatory.
From 9 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday afternoon, there will be significant Metrobus changes in that area near the National Cathedral.
On Wednesday morning, roads around the White House and National Mall will be closed, including Constitution Avenue and part of H Street NW. Independence Avenue will remain open. Closures around St. Matthew’s Cathedral will affect traffic south of Dupont Circle in the middle of the day, including on Rhode Island Avenue NW and, at times, Connecticut Avenue.
All day Wednesday, Michigan Avenue NE, Taylor Street NE and Harewood Road NE are scheduled to be closed around the Basilica and Catholic University. The campus will be closed to the public, and traffic from Irving Street NE will not have direct access to continue onto Michigan Avenue.
North Capitol Street is scheduled to be open.
Separate delays and detours are expected Thursday morning around the Capitol because of the pope’s speech to Congress. While the 3rd Street Tunnel will be open, South Capitol Street will be closed north of the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, and Independence and Constitution Avenues could be closed around the Capitol.