If you live or work in downtown Billings, it might be good to leave your car at home Thursday morning.
President Donald Trump is going to turn thousands of Billings residents into pedestrians Thursday afternoon and into Friday morning.
Police Chief Rich St. John said Wednesday that Air Force One is expected to land at Billings Logan International Airport at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Shortly after touchdown, a motorcade will take Trump and his entourage via Highway 3 to MetraPark for the president’s 7 p.m. political rally. The motorcade will not proceed until the route is clear of cars, and every intersection along the route will be cleared, St. John said.
Once the motorcade arrives at MetraPark, all traffic along the way will be released. St. John said he expects a full traffic stop along Highway 3 to last up to 15 minutes.
Photos from the day as President Trump visits Billings for a rally at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
When the rally is over, the president's motorcade will head downtown, and all intersections will again be shut down until Trump reaches his overnight accommodation. St. John declined to verify that the president and those accompanying him plan to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton. “Somebody is staying there,” the chief told reporters Wednesday.
MetraPark officials predict a crowd of about 10,000 will fill the Rimrock Auto Arena to hear from the president.
“I don’t think they’ll all pile downtown after that, although we will see some foot traffic,” St. John said.
A rectangle of roads closed to everything but people on foot — Montana Avenue and First Avenue North between N. 26th and N. 28th Streets — remains in effect through mid-morning Friday.
“This will be a major disruption to downtown traffic,” St. John said. The closures are designed to “ensure the safety of the president and citizens as well.”
“If you want to take part in the fanfare,” St. John advised, “avoid the area, or take an alternate route.”
The North 27th Street entrance to the Park 2 garage will serve as a checkpoint for officers to inspect vehicles and search people, St. John said. The city-owned garage will be closed to the public, but open to hotel guests and employees for parking.
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The sky bridge connecting Park 2 and the DoubleTree will be closed. The hotel’s south entrance is the only way in or out for hotel guests and employees.
St. John said up to 100 officers could be called in as part of the presidential detail, as well as Yellowstone County sheriff's deputies and Montana Highway Patrol troopers.
“We have done this a time or two, and we are ready for this,” he said. “It’s labor intensive, but just about everyone in the department is available. We’ll have the ability to answer day-to-day calls for service, too.”
St. John said he’ll be reaching out to the president’s campaign organization to recoup the expected $20,000 or more cost in police protection he expects to incur. He said he tried twice with the vice president’s organization after Mike Pence’s July visit to Billings, but hasn’t yet heard back.
“This is expensive, and it’s not something we budgeted for,” St. John said.
The chief encouraged onlookers not to panic if they inadvertently wander into a restricted area.
“We see people panicked, and nothing good ever happens then,” St. John said. “Be patient and listen to officers' instructions. Time and time again, people cut through parking lots or dash across streets. That’s going to get a response you probably don’t want.”
He said Secret Service agents “have been consummate professionals” throughout the planning process.
“They are gracious and thankful we can help. They cannot do this job without local law enforcement,” St. John said. “If we didn’t, it would be a far different picture for them.”