‘Purple Tunnel of Doom' Closed for Inauguration

While Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration ceremony was viewable from jumbo TV screens along the mall, those who were able to snag tickets got to see the festivities from the grounds of the Capitol.

Unless their tickets were purple. Or blue. Or possibly silver.

In 2009, at least 1,000 people got stuck in the Third Street Tunnel -- quickly nicknamed the Purple Tunnel of Doom -- and missed out on the ceremony.

It became one of the best-known snafus of the previous Obama inaugural - so famous, in fact, that this year, that tunnel will be closed. No pedestrians will be allowed to use it to get to inaugural events this year; it will only be used for emergency vehicles.

The Purple Tunnel of Doom fiasco also was part of the reason that organizers of this year's event changed ticketing procedures and added staff.

People stuck in the tunnel will never forget it.

"We followed the rules, got up early, took the Metro and then took our place in a pseudo-line and stood for hours, never moving," ticketholder Lisa Alford told us in an email after she and her sister missed out on seeing the ceremony.

"Apparently with a lack of security, the purple gate was never fully opened and there was nothing short of chaos."

The 2009 trouble began when officials decided to close the official crossing point early, forcing ticketholders to travel to the other side of the Capitol.

Their plight was documented by News4's Julie Carey, who got stuck in the line while trying to get to her designated spot in the silver ticket area. Her first report came in at about 9:30 a.m.:

"Huge crowds of people were turned away from crossing the parade route on Constitution Avenue at Third and C streets at about 9:30 a.m. and were being forced to go through the Third Street Tunnel," she said.

"Police refused to let the more than three-block-long clot of ticket holders through," she said around 11 a.m. that day. "...The best guidance came not from police but Obama volunteers who jumped atop jersey barriers to direct the human traffic."

According to a report released in 2010, the three agencies near or in the tunnel had conflicting information about what the tunnel and the above-ground cross-over were supposed to be used for, the Atlantic reported.

Organizers are hoping things will go more smoothly this time around. In addition to closing the tunnel and the staffing changes, volunteers will check tickets while people are waiting in line to ensure they're in the right place.

“I can’t promise you it will be perfect, but certainly we hope it will be better than last time,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who heads the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

 A new, free smartphone app is also available to guide ticketholders to the right places and warn everyone about problem areas.

A Facebook group for "survivors" of the Purple Tunnel of Doom is still somewhat active. Some users say they plan to try again this year, while others say no way.

"That was my one shot at going to the Inauguration and to be shut out at the Blue Gate (Congressional seating), with 5000 others, was traumatic not only because of the safety concerns, nightmares for weeks after, but especially working that hard to get there, spending the money and no way to hear or see anything in the freezing temperatures of that day," Kim Doyle Wille posted.

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