Getting There: Nothing screws up traffic more than a visit from the leader of the free world. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at Arizona State University on Wednesday evening, which gives me a chance to reflect upon gridlock.
Nothing screws up traffic more than a visit from the leader of the free world.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at Arizona State University on Wednesday evening, which gives me a chance to reflect upon gridlock.
Not the kind you’ll find in Washington, D.C., but the nasty snarls created when roads and highways are blocked off for the security of the presidential motorcade.
The worst I’ve personally witnessed came in October 2004, when then-President George W. Bush made a campaign stop at an “active living” retirement metropolis northeast of Tampa, Fla. The security detail simply blocked off Interstate 75 and Florida’s Turnpike at their junction, creating a massive jam that took hours to untangle.
The national media got an escort to the side of the stage; the local media, including me, got stuck in traffic and “covered” the speech via car radio.
With Obama appearing at Sun Devil Stadium, let me give this advice: Unless you absolutely have to be near ASU and downtown Tempe, stay far away.
Numerous street closures promise to create a ripple effect felt miles away from the venue.
Unfortunately, this event has a few more moving parts than usual. As of Friday afternoon, details had yet to be announced but we can speculate.
• Metro light rail — Because trains run right past the stadium, there’s a good chance service will be halted between the 5th Street/Forest Avenue station and the station at University Drive/Rural Road. If this closure does take place, Metro plans to have a “bus bridge” shuttling people between the stops.
But if you’re going to the event, light rail is a fine alternative. You won’t have to hassle with traffic and parking, and this is about as short a walk as you’ll find on Wednesday.
• Highways — This is a tricky one, because the motorcade’s route never is announced in advance. Actually, before Obama’s speech at Mesa’s Dobson High School in February, a law enforcement agency let slip some details.
Immediately, the Tribune got a call asking us not to print that but if we did, “they’ll just change it anyway.” OK, then.
Loop 202/Red Mountain Freeway is on the opposite side of the Salt River from the stadium, but this very well could be shut, too, especially if plans call for Obama to either fly into the Valley just before the event or leave right afterward.
And if Obama is staying overnight, avoid driving between the stadium and his hotel because that will be blocked off, too.
• Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport — This is the big X-factor.
Now, it’s protocol to ground all nonessential flights within a wide radius of Air Force One’s location. What we still don’t know is how the security clampdown affects commercial aircraft, which still are allowed to fly, when their flight path takes them near a presidential appearance.
If you’ve been to a football game at the stadium, you’ll see the potential problem.
When we have answers to these questions, the Tribune will let you know.