By Larry Shaughnessy
President Barack Obama's inauguration as the nation's first African-American president four years ago drew a record-breaking crowd estimated at nearly two million people.
The throng was so heavy at one point that thousands - including some VIPs and others with hard-to-get tickets to the Capitol grounds - couldn't even get near the National Mall.
But there should be more room this time in Washington to mark the start of Obama's second act in January with a smaller crowd expected and stepped up planning in place.
"If anybody is interested in coming out to watch the inauguration, I think there will be much easier access this year," said Army Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the Military District of Washington who is in charge of all active duty troops participating in the event.
Military officials outlined some of their preliminary plans for the Jan. 21 festivities on Wednesday.
They laid out 60- by 40-foot maps of Washington with tiny models of the Capitol, White House, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.
The maps are being used to help them fine tune the delicate dance of getting a million-plus ordinary spectators, hundreds of VIPs, 10,000 parade participants and 13,500 military members in and out of the city in one day.
They promised several times that it will be easier for people to see the event compared to Obama's first inaugural.
"We have addressed that problem and we don't anticipate issues to exist with people trying to get into the inauguration itself," Col. Jesse Galvan, an Army military police official said.
Most of the 7,500 troops under Linnington's command will be ushers for the formal swearing-in or will march in the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue or be involved in other ceremonial tasks.
Each of the five U.S. armed services sends a color guard, an honor guard and units from its service academy.
The National Guard troops involved in events will work under Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, commander of the Washington, D.C., National Guard. He will oversee 6,000 forces from 15 states and territories.
They will assist with crowd management as well as help law enforcement with traffic control around the Capitol, the White House, the Mall.
One of the biggest problems four years ago was access to the inauguration site even for people with VIP tickets. Hundreds of pedestrians were stuck inside the Third Street tunnel several blocks from the Capitol as Obama made history.
That won't happen this year.
"The Third Street tunnel will be closed to all vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic for this event. The only traffic that will be going through the Third Street tunnel will be for emergency purposes only," Schwartz said.
Linnington said other plans are in the works to ease the flow of people to the swearing in, including "extended hours for public transportation, buses, Metro, opening of additional bridges and making it more accessible for people to come in."