WASHINGTON — The view might not be great, but you can still say you were there.
With more than a million people expected to descend upon Washington for President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 swearing in, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Thursday that the entire length of the National Mall will be open to the public for the first time to accommodate the anticipated overflow crowd.
The Mall, which stretches 2.5 miles from the steps of the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, will be equipped with large viewing screens and speakers so people standing far away from the swearing-in event can see and hear.
"We're grateful to local, federal and military officials for their efforts to open the National Mall to Americans who want to participate in this historic occasion," Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Emmet S. Beliveau said. "These arrangements represent our committee's continuing commitment to make next year's historic inauguration as accessible as possible to citizens in Washington, DC, and across the country."
In the past, the Mall has been used as a staging area for participants in the inaugural parade. But after members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were deluged with requests from constituents for tickets for the 240,000 tickets they had to dole out, some federal lawmakers and Obama's inauguration committee pressed to have the mall open to the public.
"This will be an inauguration for all Americans," Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said. "And we are dedicated to opening it up so that people from across the country can gather together in America's front yard."
No one knows how many people will come. Early estimates had suggested that 1.5 million people might attend. But since then, Washington planners have said as many as 4 million might show up.
Washington's public transportation system has warned people to be prepared for jammed subways trains and city buses and the city council earlier this week allowed city restaurants to stay open 24 hours a day during the inaugural weekend to serve the expected crowds.