For the first time in Inaugural history the bridges leading into Washington D.C. from Virginia have been shut down to regular traffic.
It’s a phenomenon only occurring between Virginia and D.C. Marylanders, for some reason, are exempt from this part of the plan.
For most people on Inauguration Day, the effects of the bridge closures will be negligible. You’re either walking or riding Metro to the Mall along with the two million or more people, or staying in the comfort of your own home to watch the event on TV. But for key medical personnel scheduled to work on January 20, 2009, the decision is a cumbersome prospect that could put everyone involved at risk.
Our local health care system’s ability to maintain normal operations, as well as the ability to ramp up staffing in the event of a crisis is directly related to their ability to access health care professionals. With a large number of those professionals living in Virginia, the decision to bar them bridge access on Inaugural Day will clearly impact the ability to respond in the event of an incident.
As it stands today, there are no viable options for getting critical medical staff to work and back home on Tuesday, January 20. The Metro system will most likely be at capacity, and as a result of the bridge and road closures in Northern Virginia, all vehicular traffic will be forced to enter the District from limited access points in Maryland. The result will be significant gridlock and limited movement of traffic throughout the region.
While the security of the President and those attending the event are and should be the foremost concern, the closing of the bridges was a transportation decision, not a security precaution. Taxis, limos and buses will have full ability to cross all but the Memorial Bridge which is closed for pedestrians only. If security were the chief concern, these would be some of the first vehicles banned from accessing the bridge.
By impeding the ability of key medical personnel traveling from Virginia to reach their respective places of employment in the District, the risk of staff shortages at local hospitals vital for treating medical situations that will inevitably arise given the record crowds greatly increases.
These concerns were brought to my attention by officials at local D.C. and Northern Virginia hospitals. In light of their concerns, Congressman Gerry Connolly and I have asked the U.S. Secret Service and Virginia State Police to grant authorization for medical staff at area hospitals to access the bridges leading into Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day.
Hospitals are a key component of the emergency response infrastructure. Its time we started treating them as such. Providing hospital workers bridge access on Inauguration Day would be one particular gesture that would go a long way towards bringing them the appropriate standing they deserve, ensuring our region’s medical centers are operating at their highest level of readiness this historic day.