Beach Drive block party to celebrate project milestone

The Beach Drive project is scheduled to last until fall 2019 in various phases. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)

The first phase of the Beach Drive reconstruction project has concluded, and the newly refinished stretch of roadway from Rock Creek Parkway to Tilden Street and Park Road NW is scheduled to open fully by the end of August. To celebrate its completion, the National Park Service and Rock Creek Conservancy are hosting a block party on Sunday.  

The rehabilitation of Beach Drive and its adjacent pedestrian/bicycle trail began in September 2016, and road closures will continue in phases through fall 2019 as the project advances north toward the Maryland line.

The Aug. 20 block party, during which guests are invited to try out the upgraded trail and roadway on foot or on any non-motorized vehicles, marks the end of 1.82 miles of construction. The festivities will begin at 1 p.m. at the Beach Drive entrance to the National Zoo.

The entrance has been outfitted with a new staircase, crosswalk, and flashing signal for drivers “that finally provides safe passage into the zoo, which has been requested by concerned visitors and staff for nearly a decade,” according to a Park Service release.

“This is really our way of giving back to a community that has put up with the Beach Drive rehabilitation. We know it has been tricky for neighbors,” Rock Creek Creek Conservancy spokesperson Katy Cain told The Current. “It’s a one-time opportunity; once vehicles get on there, there won’t be another opportunity to bike and walk on a carless road.”

Zoo vendors will be selling snacks at the block party, and Scott Einberger, author of “A History of Rock Creek Park: Wilderness & Washington D.C.,” will lead a history and nature walk beginning at 2 p.m. at Peirce Mill, 2401 Tilden St. NW. Rock Creek Conservancy also hopes to organize a guided bike tour and a trash cleanup.

The southern segment of Beach Drive is set to reopen to motor vehicles shortly after the festivities. “With the rain we’ve had and construction schedules, we don’t have a firm date at the moment,” Park Service spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said.

Beach Drive suffered from poor conditions for years before the project began. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2016)

In conjunction with that reopening, the Park Service will close Beach Drive from Park Road/Tilden Street north to Joyce Road NW for the combined second and third phases of the work. Anzelmo-Sarles recommended that drivers start thinking now about detour routes to prevent confusion. Work will finish up first south of Broad Branch Road/Blagden Avenue, which will reopen, although some detours will remain in effect while work continues up to Joyce. Once that segment is completed, the final phase will extend from Joyce to the Maryland line. Despite early delays to the first phase of the work, the full rehabilitation is on schedule to finish in fall 2019.

The Beach Drive project entails fully excavating the road and replacing it with a new gravel base and asphalt paving. In addition, the Park Service and the D.C. Department of Transportation are improving pedestrian and bike trails. The work also includes installation and upgrades of raised pavement markers, guardrails and road signs; replacement of traffic signals and streetlights; and the rehabilitation of parking areas, a DC Water storm drain and six pedestrian bridges.

“Beach Drive is well past its service life. The last time it had significant work done was in 1991,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “The heavy volume of traffic and the weather we have here in the winter breaks it down, and there are potholes and drainage issues, so this project will create a new, smooth, pothole-free road for drivers for the next 15 to 20 years.”