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Carol Milton of Huntsville waves a flag and takes pictures of President Bush’s motorcade on U.S. 31 on Thursday.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Carol Milton of Huntsville waves a flag and takes pictures of President Bush’s motorcade on U.S. 31 on Thursday.

Presidential visit plays havoc on traffic
Officials close Interstate 565 from airport; Additional delays on Alabama 20, U.S. 31

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com · 340-2355

Drivers endured delays on major roadways between Huntsville International Airport and Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant while others gathered along the roads to watch as President Bush’s motorcade passed Thursday.

Authorities closed Interstate 565 from the airport, parts of I-65, Alabama 20 East and U.S. 31 between Decatur and Tanner.

Athens police Capt. Tracy Harrison said police closed the roads for about 30 minutes beginning shortly before 1 p.m. for the president’s trip to Browns Ferry and again at about 2:30 p.m. as Bush returned to the airport.

“We closed it prior to his coming, and we held traffic until he got almost to the plant and then we reopened it,” Harrison said. “We didn’t wait until he got to an intersection to close it. We closed everything and cleared all the roadways before he came. The roads were completely vacant except for that motorcade.”

Harrison said he couldn’t say how long the lines of backed-up traffic got. But some drivers reported traffic stopping for about 20 minutes as the president’s motorcade left Browns Ferry on its way back to the airport and Air Force One.

A flashing sign along the southbound lane of I-65 a couple of miles north of Alabama 20 and I-565 told motorists the score: “Expect a 20 minute delay.”

“I couldn’t really tell, but I don’t think it was (backed up) that far, because a lot of people took alternate routes. I could see a lot of people turning around. It inconvenienced some people, but we were under instructions from the Secret Service, and everybody seemed pretty happy that he (Bush) was coming to Athens,” Harrison said.

Harrison said he couldn’t release the details of other security measures taken, but he did say area law enforcement had been meeting with Secret Service for about a week to fine-tune security preparations.

“We had people everywhere,” Harrison said.

Athens put about 25 officers on the detail, which was also comprised of Limestone County sheriff’s deputies, Decatur police and others.

“We’ve never worked a security detail of this magnitude,” Harrison said.

“(Our officers) handled it with professionalism and did an excellent job and showed that we could handle security at this high of a level.”

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