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Highway closings may cause delays near airport Secret Service won't say which roads to be blocked


If you have to travel between Baltimore and Washington tomorrow, you may need the patience of a saint.

The U.S. Secret Service is considering closing any or all of the major north-south interstate routes to provide security for Pope John Paul II, including I-95 between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Baltimore, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway between I-195 and Baltimore, and I-97 between the airport and the city.

The hitch: They won't say which ones will be closed. They want to avoid giving away the route the pope will use to get to Baltimore to protect him from potential assassins.

Maryland transportation officials say the Sunday morning closures should not be a problem because traffic is light, both in the air and on the ground.

At the same time, state officials will close roads around the airport for about 20 minutes before and at least 5 minutes after the pope's scheduled 9:50 a.m. arrival and motorcade to the city.

The State Highway Administration will close Md. Route 162. Arrows and message boards will direct traffic east along Dorsey Road and then north on Aviation Boulevard to the west side of the complex, officials said.

The aircraft viewing area, a glorified parking lot off Dorsey Road, will be off-limits all day.

It could be worse.

Miami International Airport Police Chief Lewis A. Thomason recalled that the pontiff's 1987 visit to Miami created traffic tie-ups throughout the area. "They closed the interstates an hour before" the pope arrived, he said.

But Sunday evening, when the pontiff returns to the airport for an invitation-only departure reception at 8 p.m., could be difficult.

Sunday evenings ordinarily are the busiest of the week at BWI, according to BWI spokeswoman Linda Greene, so expect some flight delays.

When the pope visited Denver in 1993, air traffic controllers increased the spacing between arriving flights from approximately two miles apart, to eight to 10 miles apart, resulting in a delay of about 15 minutes for arriving planes, recalled Dan Melfi, airport spokesman there.

Controllers at BWI may use the same tactic, creating a 10-minute delay in arrivals, Ms. Greene said.

Airport security is so important because "it is the narrow end of the funnel," explained Frank G. McGuire, who edits Security Intelligence Report, a newsletter for security and intelligence professionals.

"You can change the motorcade route, you can change times, but you cannot change the runway, you cannot change the ramp," he said.

Because of heightened security this week due to potential terrorism threats at all U.S. airports, passengers already are being advised to arrive at BWI two hours before the scheduled departure time. Airport experts suggest you build another 45 minutes extra travel time into your schedule Sunday night.

Or in the words of Elmer H. Tippett, former superintendent of the Maryland State Police, who is public safety manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, "Come early and make sure you are ready, and be prepared to wait."

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