When a newly reconstructed portion of Beach Drive reopens at the end of the month, the road will be so shiny and smooth, drivers might almost forget about the painful year-long closure.
But the work isn’t over. More detours and closures are on the way.
The reopening of the two-mile segment, on or about Aug. 28, will mark completion of a third of a three-year project to rehabilitate the 6.5-mile Beach Drive, a busy commuter thoroughfare that runs through Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington. In the past year, 1.82 miles in the southernmost portion of the route was rebuilt. There are still two years and 4.6 miles to go.
Construction will move to the middle section of the roadway this month, marking the beginning of another year of detours for drivers around another closure — from Tilden Street to Joyce Road, adjacent to Military Road.
“It’s time for people to start preparing,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, which is in charge of the project. “There will be an adjustment period just like last fall.”
The thousands of vehicle that use that portion of the road — as many as 15,000 daily — will need to divert to other already-clogged arteries such as Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street NW. For example, drivers coming from Maryland on southbound Beach Drive will need to exit onto Military Road, turn left on Nebraska Avenue, take a left on Connecticut Avenue and another left on Tilden to continue their trip on Beach Drive.
Pedestrians and bicyclists will also have to adjust. Over the next year they won’t be able to enjoy this section of Beach Drive, which closes to vehicular traffic on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays so bikers, hikers and joggers can use it.
“The road will be an active construction zone and will be closed to everyone,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “So it is a great time to explore other trails in the park.”
Finding alternate routes ahead of the closures is a good bet for commuters. The D.C. Department of Transportation plans to adjust the timing of traffic signals at dozens of intersections to ensure better flow. But drivers should anticipate heavier traffic on nearby corridors, officials say, and be patient the first few weeks as the new traffic patterns settle in.
Jim Stockmal, a Dupont Circle resident who uses Beach Drive daily to get his children to school at St. John’s College High School on Military Road, adjusted his route in the past year to go around the first closure near the National Zoo. Now that the work is moving north and closer to the school, he is once again testing alternatives. No route is ideal, he said.
“I am going to have to leave earlier,” he said. Not a very popular option with his two boys.
The reopening of the first completed section — which officials say will happen during the last week of August — however, brings relief for commuters who use one of the busiest corridors in the city. Before the shutdown, 26,000 cars traveled that section daily, and many had to divert to already congested Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, the National Park Service will welcome neighbors and other road users for a car-free party at the National Zoo entrance on Beach Drive.
They will notice new pedestrian infrastructure, including a new stairway and crosswalk leading into the zoo at Harvard Street, with a flashing signal for drivers and a pedestrian push-to-walk button.
Drivers will notice “the beautiful, smooth new road surface,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. During the road reconstruction, crews dug about a foot-and-a-half down to build a new surface and installed a drainage system that will help prevent erosion and keep the road drier.
“Drivers can say goodbye to potholes and puddles,” she said.
The nearby trail used by thousands of bicyclists and joggers also got a makeover. Portions that were six feet wide are now eight feet, and the narrow sidewalk inside the tunnel close to the National Zoo expanded from two feet to five feet. A guardrail adds an extra level of protection for pedestrians in that stretch.
Katie Harris, trail coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said the trail improvement is a major milestone and “makes the Rock Creek Park Trail a safer, more enjoyable, and more feasible route for those who walk and bike.”
The three-year reconstruction project is on track to be completed in fall 2019, the National Park Service says.
The details: Beach Drive is getting a complete makeover. Crews will excavate the area and put in a new gravel base before laying asphalt. Bridges will be rehabilitated and parking areas rebuilt. New traffic safety features such as guardrails and centerline rumble strips to keep drivers from drifting into oncoming traffic will be added. Storm drainage is also being improved.
Timing: The first segment of the project took about year, a few months more than anticipated. The second closure, from Tilden Street to Joyce Road, is set to begin at the end of the month. That work is split into two segments. The first, between Tilden Street and Broad Branch Road, is expected to take three to six months. Work between Broad Branch and Joyce roads will continue for an additional six months.
After this closure, the construction will move to the final section, between Joyce Road and the Maryland border.
Non-vehicular access: Cyclists and pedestrians will not be allowed on Beach Drive during the rehabilitation of the second phase. This will be a major change from a Park Service tradition to close the road from Broad Branch Road to Military Road to vehicles on weekends and holidays to give pedestrians access to the park.
Driving across Rock Creek Park: Traffic on Tilden Street will be able to get across Rock Creek Park, but there may be more delays in that area. If you plan to drive on the part of Beach Drive that will remain open, detours will send you to Tilden Street after the closures begin. Similar delays could take place on Military Road, where southbound Beach Drive drivers will find detour signs to get around the closure.
Traffic-mitigation efforts: Besides encouraging commuters to find alternative routes and ways to get around, city transportation officials are taking measures to improve traffic flow in corridors including Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street NW. Officials said they are making minor adjustments to signal timing at 30 intersections to assist with traffic detours in the adjacent network and modifying signal sequencing at three intersections: Connecticut Avenue and Tilden Street, 16th Street and Arkansas Avenue, and Beach Drive and Tilden Street. DDOT will deploy traffic-control officers at key intersections near the project.
For more information: The Park Service will have construction updates on the project’s website (go.nps.gov/beachdrive). Commuters are also urged to sign up for updates through Nixle, a free tool that allows information to be sent via text, email, social media and the Nixle mobile app.