WASHINGTON -- Crowds streamed into the nation's capital Tuesday, packing mass transit and suburban subway parking lots before dawn as out-of-towners and area residents alike headed for Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall for the swearing in of President-elect Barack Obama.
"This is the culmination of two years of work," said Obama activist Akin Salawu, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who helped the candidate as a community organizer and Web producer. "We got on board when Obama was the little engine who could. He's like a child you've held onto. Now he's going out into the world."
By 4 a.m. Tuesday, lines of riders formed in suburban parking lots for the Metro transit system, which opened early and put on extra trains for the expected rush. Many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.
Streets around the Capitol quickly filled with people, and security checkpoints were mobbed.
Connie Grant of Birmingham, Alabama, said she got up at 3:30 a.m. after coming to Washington with a group. Three hours later she was still on 7th street waiting for police to clear the way into the Mall.
She said the wait didn't matter. "I sacrificed and came here. To me, this is very historic. I just wanted to be here."
Subway riders seemed to be in a jubilant mood, despite the early hour and occasional balky trains. World history teacher Calvin Adams of Arlington, Va., said he got up extra early so he could witness history being made first-hand and teach it to his classes.
"Eventually I'll teach American history," said Adams, 23. "I'll say, 'This is how it works because I've been there, I've seen it.'"
At the District's L'enfant plaza Metro station about 1,000 riders - many of them evidently new to the city's subway system - waited to exit and were having trouble getting through the unfamiliar turnstiles. And, there was standing room only on some suburban Virginia lines. Maryland transit authorities reported that parking lots in several suburban Metro subway stations were filled at 6 a.m. And on the state's highways, there was moderate to heavy traffic.
By 4:15 a.m., a line of cars extending for more than a mile formed on the far right lane Interstate 66 in Virginia. The travelers were driving eastbound and trying to land a coveted parking spot at the Vienna metro. While parking spots were still plentiful, drivers were forced to travel single-file to enter the station's parking garages.
"We're prepared; we're braced," said Steven Taubenkibel, spokesman for the District's Metro mass-transit system.
Thousands of charter buses from across the country were in the District of Columbia, packing parking lots and even streets that closed Monday night to accommodate the surge of overnight visitors and day-trippers.
City and local planners have consistently warned visitors that they could expect extensive transportation delays.
On the closing list Tuesday are all inbound bridges connecting the District of Columbia and Virginia, though authorized vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists are allowed. A sizable chunk of downtown Washington will be shut down, and other sections will not permit parking. The two subway stations near the National Mall will be closed for much of the day.
D.C. police have projected inaugural crowds between 1 million and 2 million. Planners say attendance could easily top the 1.2 million people who were at Lyndon B. Johnson's 1965 inauguration, the largest crowd the National Park Service has on record.