Pope's visit snarls heavy Washington traffic
Pope Benedict XVI's arrival inthe United States may be a blessing to American
Catholics, but Washington commuters may find it more of a nightmare.
The pope landed around 4 pm (2000 GMT) Tuesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland outside Washington, just as the evening rush hour was getting into full swing, and the separate motorcades for both Benedict and President George W Bush, who greeted the pontiff on the tarmac, shut down traffic along key highways back into the city.
For the first time in more than seven years in office, Bush greeted a visiting head of state at the military airbase, accompanied by First Lady Laura Bush and daughter Jenna, in keeping with the common practice for presidents to meet the pope at his arrival on US soil.
Benedict is staying at the Vatican embassy in Washington, across the street from the official vice presidential residence, and Massachusetts Avenue - a major route through the city - will be narrowed to just one lane in each direction for security purposes.
Bush and Benedict are scheduled to meet again Wednesday in a reception at the White House and will have a private meeting in the Oval Office. The White House was bracing for 9,000 to 12,000 guests for the reception - the largest event since Bush took office in 2001.
Benedict's Popemobile procession on Wednesday to the White House was expected to draw large crowds and again cause rolling street disruptions along the 4-kilometre route through the heart of Washington. Streets in the city's Little Rome area, home to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic University and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, will also be shut down.
The problems aren't limited to surface traffic - the region's subway system will be flooded early Thursday with many of the 47,000 faithful headed to a Mass at newly opened Nationals Park, which has minimal parking, just as much of the city's labour force will also be travelling on the rails into Washington.