Maryland Expects to Revise Inaugural Cost Estimates

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By Leonard Sparks
Capital News Service
Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009

WASHINGTON - The record 1.8 million people who flooded Washington for President Obama's inauguration Tuesday spared Maryland's transportation system of any major problems and could cost the state less than the $12 million earlier estimated, according to state officials.

"I doubt if we're going to have any solid figures for a couple of weeks," said Ed Hopkins, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. "We're hopeful that the numbers will be less than the $12 million."

The agency is still assembling the final tab for the dozens of state, county and local agencies that mobilized for Obama's inauguration, train ride through Maryland and stop in Baltimore.

The initial estimate for Maryland's preparations included costs for potential emergencies, including housing and feeding large numbers of people, that never occurred.

Once a final cost is set, the state will forward it to Maryland's congressional delegation in hopes that the federal government will pay part of the costs, Hopkins said.

"There's nothing definite," he said.

The District received $15 million for inaugural expenses and more is expected.

Although there were no emergencies, there were a few problems.

Some drivers had to wait hours to park at Metro stations in Prince George's County and others had to reclaim towed cars they hurriedly left parked on the shoulder of Route 50, traffic on Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway stayed moderate.

"Gridlock was never an issue," said Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The crowd's effect was most evident at Metro's Prince George's County stations. Parking lots at the Branch Avenue, Largo Town Center, New Carrollton and Greenbelt stops filled by 5:30 a.m., along with the Glenmont station in Montgomery County. The long lines that backed up onto local roads meant some motorists were allowed to enter without paying the $4 parking fee.

"There were long lines everywhere in the morning," said Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. "It was pretty much what we anticipated was going to happen."

Some frustrated drivers who abandoned their cars on the shoulder of Route 50 near the New Carrollton station wound up paying towing fees. State Police began calling tow trucks between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., said Sgt. Arthur Betts, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police. About 22 cars were towed, he said.

"I believe most of them came (Tuesday) evening to retrieve their vehicles," Betts said.

The stress on Maryland highways was minimal, according to the State Highway Administration. Although the morning brought some congestion on state roads, traffic on Maryland highways and the Woodrow Wilson and American Legion bridges was calm, said Charlie Gischlar, an administration spokesman.

State officials monitored highway traffic from an operations center in Anne Arundel County. During the day, extra emergency crews deployed to help clear lanes of any disabled vehicles. The administration also for the first time used Twitter to send traffic updates.

A single-car accident on southbound I-95 near Route 216 temporarily closed lanes just before 6 a.m. By 7:34, an update posted at SHA's Twitter page announced that all lanes had reopened.

The state also sold about 3,000 out of 9,000 tickets available for commuter buses carrying people from park-and-ride lots to Metro stations in the Maryland suburbs. Tickets cost $10 roundtrip.

A record 1.1 million riders passed through Metro's turnstiles on Inauguration Day, according to Taubenkibel. The old record, more than 866,000, was set just the day before.

The Gallery Place-Chinatown, L'Enfant Plaza, Metro Center and Union Station stops handled the most traffic, with long waits for trains and crowded escalators and stairways. By 7 p.m., an estimated 110,000 people had used L'Enfant, which averages about 35,000 riders a day.

"Given the circumstances for the day and the amount of people that were in the system, we came through," Taubenkibel said.

Gischlar, the SHA spokesman, attributed the calmness on Maryland roads to multiple alerts in which the state urged the use of public transportation and recommended avoiding unnecessary trips near the District. He also credited those attending the inauguration for responding to appeals to plan ahead and leave early.

"They deserve a big kudos on that," Gischlar said. "They heeded our advice."

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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