Tra∞c woes con­tinue on Beach Drive

Over­haul of busy stretch in Wash­ing­ton won’t end un­til Au­gust

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY LUZ LAZO luz.lazo@wash­post.com

It could be Au­gust be­fore a busy stretch of Beach Drive NW re­opens to ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic, of­fi­cials said, dis­ap­point­ing thou­sands of com­muters who have en­dured night­mar­ish traf­fic since the route closed for im­prove­ments last Septem­ber.

Work on the sec­tion be­tween Rock Creek and Potomac Park­way and Tilden Street was ex­pected to be com­pleted this spring. But of­fi­cials with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice say crews need more time to com­plete re­con­struc­tion of the road and its ad­ja­cent trail. For driv­ers, it means at least two more months of get­ting around a work zone through a busy part of North­west Wash­ing­ton.

Beach Drive, a 6.5-mile road­way that runs through Rock Creek Park, is un­der­go­ing a to­tal makeover. Work be­gan Sept. 22 on the stretch near the Na­tional Zoo — the busiest por­tion of the road. After this seg­ment is com­pleted, three other clo­sures along the route will fol­low, with a pro­jected com­ple­tion date of fall 2019. The cur­rent clo­sure is likely to be the most painful, how­ever, as some 26,000 cars travel the sec­tion daily and are now be­ing di­verted to other clogged ar­ter­ies such as Con­necti­cut Av­enue.

“We un­der­stand that this is a real in­con­ve­nience to driv­ers and pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists,” said Jeremy K. Bar­num, a spokesman for the Na­tional Park Ser­vice. “We are do­ing every­thing we can to get the work done all at once … so we are not back there in the near fu­ture dis­turb­ing the route again. It is fun­da­men­tal that this be done right.”

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

The ex­tra time will al­low the con­trac­tor, Fort Myer Con­struc­tion, to per­form work on the trail and road si­mul­ta­ne­ously and “more ef­fi­ciently man­age the work,” Bar­num said. This in­cludes widen­ing the trail, which is used for com­mut­ing and re­cre­ation by hun­dreds of cy­clists, jog­gers and pedes­tri­ans. Do­ing the work con­cur­rently ul­ti­mately will avoid clo­sures in the area later on, city and Park Ser­vice of­fi­cials said.

Still, some res­i­dents and com­muters ques­tion the ap­proach. At com­mu­nity meet­ings last sum­mer, the Park Ser­vice along with the con­trac­tor and city of­fi­cials, said the road and trail work were in­cluded in the orig­i­nal time frame of six to eight months. The orig­i­nal plan was to re­build the road first, then the trail, which would al­low foot and bike traf­fic all through the project. Now that the two are be­ing done con­cur­rently, the Park Ser­vice has put in de­tours for pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists.

The por­tion of Beach Drive be­tween Piney Branch Park­way and Porter Street, which was left open to al­low east-west traf­fic through the park, will close by mid­sum­mer, of­fi­cials said. Crews will then move to the sec­ond phase of the project, which will close the stretch of Beach Drive be­tween Tilden Street and Broad Branch Road. Of­fi­cials say the work there will take be­tween two and three months to com­plete in­stead of the pro­jected six to eight months.

After re­pairs are com­pleted on that sec­tion, crews will move to the area be­tween Broad Branch Road and Joyce Road, then fi­nally, the part be­tween Joyce Road and the Mary­land bor­der.

Park Ser­vice of­fi­cials say the over­all project is still on track for com­ple­tion in the pro­jected three-year pe­riod. There haven’t been any ma­jor storms to dis­rupt work and just a few unan­tic­i­pated events, such as the dis­cov­ery of some ca­bles and wires un­der the road sur­face and a his­toric wall un­der the road near Tilden Street, of­fi­cials said.

A big­ger chal­lenge has been keep­ing foot traf­fic out of the con­struc­tion zone. A few nearmisses be­tween con­struc­tion ve­hi­cles and pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists last fall prompted the Park Ser­vice to step up en­force­ment to keep the foot traf­fic from veer­ing off the des­ig­nated path. Con­struc­tion crews in­stalled ad­di­tional fenc­ing and sig­nage to pre­vent peo­ple from en­ter­ing the closed area, of­fi­cials said.

Nanci Link, a re­tired nurse who lives in North­west Wash­ing­ton, said the clo­sure has made it more dif­fi­cult for her and her hus­band to get around. The cou­ple, for ex­am­ple, has cut back on vol­un­teer­ing from five times a month to twice a month, she said.

“The park clo­sure also makes it dif­fi­cult — very stress­ful — to get to doc­tor ap­point­ments in Foggy Bot­tom,” said Link, 73. She’s also no­ticed more traf­fic on neigh­bor­hood streets and longer back­ups near the zoo, she said.

“Many peo­ple used Rock Creek Park­way to get into the zoo which now has not been an op­tion,” she said.

Over the Pres­i­dents’ Day week­end, when spring­like weather drew thou­sands of vis­i­tors to the zoo for a send-off for the panda Bao Bao to her new home in China, de­lays of more than 30 min­utes were re­ported along Con­necti­cut Av­enue, the zoo’s other en­trance. As spring and sum­mer roll in, Link says the area needs to pre­pare for sim­i­lar traf­fic night­mares near the park.

But, she said she hopes the time­line for com­ple­tion of the work isn’t ex­tended even more.

Shut­ting down an en­tire road for months at a time is rare and D.C. of­fi­cials said they do so only as a last re­sort. In this case, the Park Ser­vice said a clo­sure was nec­es­sary be­cause the road is too nar­row to ac­com­mo­date traf­fic plus all the con­struc­tion, stag­ing and equip­ment needed.

“This isn’t just fill­ing pot­holes and repaving it,” Bar­num said. “We are ex­ca­vat­ing the en­tire area, putting down the new gravel base, work­ing on the trails and in some cases on storm drainage is­sues.”

When the work is done, the pop­u­lar com­muter route will have new traf­fic safety fea­tures — such as guardrails and cen­ter­line rum­ble strips to keep driv­ers from drift­ing into on­com­ing traf­fic.

City trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials mean­while say a new traf­fic pat­tern ap­pears to have sta­bi­lized. Data in the month fol­low­ing the clo­sure showed mod­est in­creases in con­ges­tion along Con­necti­cut Av­enue, with two min­utes of ad­di­tional travel time in the south­bound lanes and four min­utes north­bound, ac­cord­ing to the District Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion. Sim­i­lar pat­terns were recorded for other al­ter­nate routes such as 16th Street and Ge­or­gia Av­enue NW, of­fi­cials said.

Of­fi­cials are still urg­ing com­muters to travel via other modes or out­side peak hours if pos­si­ble. Traf­fic con­trol of­fi­cers are still be­ing de­ployed to en­sure good traf­fic flow, and of­fi­cials con­tinue to mon­i­tor and ad­just traf­fic sig­nal tim­ing to re­duce the queu­ing con­di­tions. The city also added new signs and mark­ings.

Maura Dane­hey, a DDOT spokes­woman, said the ex­tra two months of clo­sure near the Na­tional Zoo will ben­e­fit the District be­cause it will mit­i­gate fu­ture traf­fic im­pacts that would have re­sulted from build­ing the trail separately. Some of the work, she said, will also be done dur­ing the sum­mer when traf­fic tends to be lighter.

“While th­ese changes have re­sulted in some dis­rup­tion and de­lays, the over­all sys­tem has been re­silient as we have been able to make mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions to sig­nal tim­ing and road­way con­fig­u­ra­tions to ac­com­mo­date the new flows,” she said. “We will con­tinue to be proac­tive in our ap­proach through­out all project stages.”

“We un­der­stand that this is a real in­con­ve­nience to driv­ers and pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists.” Jeremy K. Bar­num, a spokesman for the Na­tional Park Ser­vice

J. LAWLER DUGGAN FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A com­plete over­haul of Beach Drive is caus­ing traf­fic night­mares along a busy stretch of the road near the Na­tional Zoo in North­west Wash­ing­ton. The sec­tion won’t be com­pleted un­til Au­gust, wreak­ing havoc for the 26,000 mo­torists who travel along the scenic path daily.

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