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The City Of Brotherly Love Makes Way For The Pope

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This fall, an estimated 1-and-a-half million people are expected to welcome Pope Francis when he visits Philadelphia. City officials are bracing for throngs of the faithful. As Katie Colaneri of member station WHYY reports, the pontiff's trip is generating excitement and more than a little anxiety.

KATIE COLANERI, BYLINE: After months of speculation, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter took to the podium this afternoon to announce the boundaries of a 3-square-mile traffic box, an area where cars will be banned from entering Friday through Sunday on pope weekend. It covers all of downtown, where Pope Francis will celebrate a huge outdoor mass.

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MICHAEL NUTTER: Yes, our daily routines will be disrupted, sometimes in minor ways, sometimes in very significant ways.

COLANERI: State officials will close swaths of major interstates as well as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, a main artery between downtown Philadelphia and the New Jersey suburbs. Philadelphians are already bracing for the traffic. Recently, on a hot afternoon, Rocco Casciato talked to Mary DeLuca on the front step of her row house in South Philadelphia. The topic - Pope Francis, of course.

ROCCO CASCIATO: We're all excited because we're all Catholic. Our church is right around the corner. And let's face it, to make a little joke, Jesus is coming to town. That's the closest thing you have to the Lord, our Savior.

COLANERI: DeLuca and Casciato are excited, but they also know they'll have to walk two miles to get a glimpse of Pope Francis. Today was the first detailed announcement about what Philadelphians will face during the papal visit. For months, there's been a scarcity of official information, and that's been particularly frustrating for businesses closest to the papal events.

RICK STAUB: We're not sure if we can get our laundry trucks in and out every night, so we're talking about, gee, we have to have additional laundry stock on site. What are we going to do about food supplies?

COLANERI: Rick Staub is general manager of a Sheraton Hotel downtown. Staub knows he'll have to plan for major disruptions, but he has a lot of unanswered questions. Mayor Nutter is urging people to have a little faith in the organizers. But that faith was already tested when SEPTA, the city's transit agency, had to suspend sales of its papal rail passes. Last month, demand for the passes was so high, SEPTA's website crashed within minutes. On Monday, the agency tried again. Spokeswoman Jerri Williams says an online lottery went much more smoothly.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Absolutely no glitches whatsoever.

COLANERI: What's going less smoothly is the city's partnership with the Secret Service, which is in charge of security. The federal agency says they're not to blame for the extensive limits on vehicular traffic and public transportation. Nonetheless, Williams says the Secret Service's screening requirements were so demanding that SEPTA had no choice but to close some rail stations. Keeping the stations open was not an option.

WILLIAMS: That just, logistically, was impossible for us to be able to do.

DAVID BEACH: We've been working day and night for months now to formulate the best plans to do that.

COLANERI: David Beach is the Secret Service special agent in charge of Philadelphia. He says his team is meeting with residents and business owners.

BEACH: We've brought some 65 or 70 agents to literally go building to building to the affected buildings and start coordination with them.

COLANERI: Officials say more information will be rolled out in the seven weeks ahead of the pope's visit. For many in the city who are wondering how they're going to get to work, go to the supermarket or get close enough for a blessing from Pope Francis himself, that information can't come soon enough. For NPR News, I'm Katie Colaneri in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.