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Part of Beach Drive will reopen next month with new road and trail

A crew on Monday works on Beach Drive near the National Zoo. (Luz Lazo/Washington Post)

The stretch of Beach Drive that closed for improvements in September will reopen to vehicular traffic next month, officials said Monday.

But don’t get too excited. The painful closures in the busy commuter thoroughfare in Northwest won’t end there. After the section between Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway NW and Tilden Street reopens, work will move to the next two miles of Beach Drive, in what will be another year of closures between Tilden Street and Military Road.

For some drivers, however, the reopening of this part of Beach Drive near the National Zoo will bring much needed relief. The current closure was likely to be the most painful because the 26,000 cars that travel the section daily are now being diverted to other clogged arteries, such as Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street. Thousands of commuters have endured nightmarish traffic since the route closed.

Beach Drive rehab will give us a taste of a painful full roadway shutdown

Officials with the National Park Service say crews are also on track to finish the entire three-year project in the fall of 2019. The 6.5-mile road that runs through Rock Creek Park is getting a complete makeover. When completed, drivers will have a brand new road, and pedestrians and cyclists will enjoy a safer trail, officials say.

“At the end of August drivers can say goodbye to potholes and puddles on this first stretch of Beach Drive,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service. “That will be the most obvious thing, the beautiful smooth new road surface.”

What people won’t see, she said, is the infrastructure underground that will help the road surface last “as long as possible.” During the road reconstruction, crews dug up about a foot-and-a-half down to build a new road surface and installed a new drainage system that will help prevent erosion and keep the road dryer.

The nearby multiuse trail used by thousands of bicyclists and joggers is also getting 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 will add safety for pedestrians in that stretch, an official said during a tour of the construction zone Monday.

“We have 11 million motorists who travel through Beach Drive, so there is no way to do this without impacting those traffic flows, but we have done it in a manner that would minimize that impact to the greatest degree possible,” Schaible said.

Traffic woes continue as part of Beach Drive to remain closed through summer

Next month crews will close the next two segments of the project. The second phase includes the stretch between Tilden Street and Broad Branch Road and work there will last about three months, Schaible said. Crews will continue work in the area between Broad Branch Road and Joyce Road near Military Road for another six months after that.

They will then move to the final section, between Joyce Road and the Maryland border.

The $32.9 million project is the first complete reconstruction of Beach Drive in 25 years, and comes after decades of deterioration, years of complaints about gaps and cracks in the road, and a trail that has become rough, root-laden and uneven.

Safisha Mance Thomas, a D.C. resident who uses the trail and Beach Drive, said the improvements to the trail make for a better run, while the addition of more vegetation and pedestrian crossings will improve safety.

“It looks fabulous,” she said as she walked the trail with her daughter near the zoo entrance on Monday morning. “From an aesthetic standpoint, it is beautiful. I see the improvement.”

But she said she is more excited about the road opening. No more potholes and puddles, she said.

“It has been an inconvenience, but it’s a good investment,” she said.