The U.S. Capitol Police has announced a series of street closures and security notices in anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit to the nation’s capital next week.
According to a Monday news release, closures include all streets within a three-block radius of the Capitol and will begin at midnight on Sept. 24 and end at noon, once Pope Francis has the left Capitol grounds after addressing a joint meeting of Congress. The closure area is bound by D Street to the north; Washington Avenue and D Street to the south; Third Street to the west; and Second Street to the east. Capitol Police emphasized there will be no public viewing areas to watch the pope’s address on the Capitol grounds. Those gathering on the West Front, in the chamber or watching a telecast in a House and Senate office building will be required to show their tickets and submit to a security screening to enter the grounds. A number of items are prohibited from the grounds that day, including selfie sticks, umbrellas, strollers, bikes, thermoses, coolers, drones, weapons and explosives.
Congressional staffers will have the opportunity to watch Pope Francis arrive and depart the Capitol by standing on the grassy area on the East Front, according to internal notices obtained by CQ Roll Call.
Parking and access will be restricted around the Capitol grounds on the day of the speech, according to notices House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin sent to lawmakers in their respective chambers last week. Only those with congressional IDs and valid parking passes will be able to access lots and parking garages that morning, and there will be no parking on the East Front plaza.
Capitol Police say the Capitol building will be closed to the general public beginning at 5 p.m. on Sept. 22, and public and staff-led tours will be suspended until around 1 p.m. that Thursday.
In addition to restricted vehicular traffic around the Capitol, public transit will also be strained for the pope’s congressional address. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Jack Requa told reporters at a briefing Monday that the Metro lines leading to the Capitol, including Orange, Blue, Silver and Red, will be affected by the crowds descending on the Capitol, and Requa urged riders to spread out between nearby stops at Capitol South, Union Station, Judiciary Square and Federal Center.
Requa and District Dept. of Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo urged workers to telecommute if possible, and opt for public transportation instead of driving into the city. Officials declined to disclose an estimated amount of additional drivers and visitors they are expecting for the pope’s three-day visit next week, but said to expect long traffic and Metro delays.
Metro officials said service would be running at full capacity during the visit and engineers were working to ensure that all trains would be operational. There will be no scheduled track work on any Metro line during that time. Trains will run at rush-hour service levels during normal rush hours, and will run at near rush-hour service levels during midday hours.
Security remains a main concern during the high-profile visit. On Sunday, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said on ABC’s “This Week” that authorities were monitoring threats to the pope during his U.S. visit, and had “disrupted one case in particular,” though he did not provide any details on the case.
Metro Transit Police Department Chief Ron Pavlik said the department will be deploying an “all hands on deck” during the pope’s visit, and the force will be working with federal partners to enhance security at transit stops.
“We’re taking various measures to ensure a safe and secure event, so whether it’s through technology or other means that may be covert or overt,” Pavlik said. He noted there will not be a bag-screening program but security officials will continue the random bag-screening program currently in place.
When asked about Pope Francis’ unpredictable nature, as he has been known to alter his visits’ schedules, Pavlik said to expect rolling street closures as the pope moves around the District.
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