WASHINGTON – Talk about the potential for political gridlock.
The Washington Post reported in Friday's editions that the Secret Service tried to get Virginia officials to close the car pool lanes Wednesday on a busy interstate used by commuters in suburban Washington, D.C., so that President Bush could easily get to and from a fundraiser for Sen. George Allen, R-Va.
"Certainly, closing down the (lanes) was one of the options that was being discussed," Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin told the Post.
Allen's fundraiser was held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at a house near Mount Vernon in Fairfax County, Va., about an hour's drive from the White House during rush hour. The request to close the high-occupancy vehicle lanes came Tuesday morning, but by that night the idea had stalled, the Post reported.
In an e-mail, state experts who monitor traffic predicted a commuting nightmare.
"There will be approximately 8,600 cars using the HOV lanes over a three-hour period (4 to 7 p.m.). This equates to approximately 20,000 to 22,000 people. If the HOV lanes are closed, according to the District's estimate the back up of traffic in the general purpose lanes will not be cleared until 10 p.m."
The original idea was to have the car pool lanes closed briefly for the president's trip to and from Mount Vernon, the Secret Service said. But it turned out that for logistical reasons, the lanes would have to stay closed from 1 to 7 p.m.
Officials decided the president would have to find another way to get to the fundraiser. So he turned to another option that is not available to ordinary commuters — a helicopter.
"You have to wonder, what were they thinking," said John Townsend, a spokesman for the auto club AAA Mid-Atlantic. "It makes you shake your head and say, 'Only in Washington."'
A Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman refused to comment Friday when reached by The Associated Press. The Secret Service did not return phone calls.
A spokesman for Allen, who gathered campaign money with Bush at the home of former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, said he had no idea the Secret Service had made such a request.
"We would not have supported such a proposal," campaign manager Dick Wadhams told the Post. "Oh my Lord. Wow. No. Not aware of any such proposal. Certainly grateful it didn't happen that way."