Beach Drive rehabilitation enters second phase of construction

The first phase of the rebuilt Beach Drive NW opened in August. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

Highly anticipated efforts to rehabilitate a deteriorated 6.5-mile stretch of Beach Drive NW and redo parts of Rock Creek Trail are moving forward as the work proceeds north toward the Maryland line.

The National Park Service completed the first phase of the rebuilt Beach Drive and the adjacent trail — the stretch south of Tilden Street NW — late last month and moved on to the next stage of construction, which has closed the busy thoroughfare from Tilden north to Joyce Road NW.

The broader Beach Drive rehabilitation began last September, with different segments slated for closure through September 2019. The current work area is scheduled to reopen in stages, with the first segment — from Tilden to Broad Branch Road NW — expected to be completed within four to six months. The stretch from Broad Branch to Joyce Road, just south of Military Road NW, will reopen by fall 2018. The final phase of work will then close Beach Drive from Joyce north to the Maryland line.

A section of the Rock Creek Trail reopened in August following the first phase of Beach Drive NW’s reconstruction. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

New Rock Creek Park superintendent Julia Washburn told The Current that Beach Drive rehab is long overdue.

“It will probably be in good shape for the next 25, 30 years, so we won’t have to go through this process again, any time soon,” she said in an interview. “We’ve been waiting for this for 20 years.”

Many residents have praised efforts to redo the nearly 30-year-old stretch of road. Bicyclists are especially pleased, having lobbied for a rehabilitation of Rock Creek Trail for some years.

However, Beach Drive’s rehabilitation has one major drawback: traffic. Residents endured congestion on nearby streets during the first phase, and now streets adjacent to the current closure area are experiencing the same traffic woes.

Nancy MacWood, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C (Cleveland Park, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, Woodley Park), told The Current that the Beach Drive project’s first phase caused cars to overflow onto Connecticut Avenue NW and divert to 34th Street NW.

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

“It was tolerable for the period … but if it’s going to be a permanent change, if people have discovered 34th Street and they want to use that as their main commuter route, we’re going to have to take a look at it,” MacWood said.

However, MacWood conceded that the project ran more smoothly than she expected and that the work is a necessary evil.

“There were a lot of potholes, the edges of the road were pretty precarious — no real edges,” she said. “It really did need to be reconstructed.”

Fellow commissioner Emma Hersh expressed similar concerns about congestion that was caused by the southernmost Beach Drive closure. “Safety has definitely been compromised, I think, by the sheer volume of cars that were driving through during segment one,” Hersh told residents at Monday’s ANC 3C meeting.

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

Traffic is already accumulating on nearby streets, according to data collected by the Transportation Department. In the mornings, the number of vehicles traveling westbound on Military Road NW has increased from 3,450 during the first phase of work to 4,000 now. Most notably, the number of cars traveling southbound on Piney Branch Parkway NW has risen from 1,925 to nearly 3,000.

To mitigate congestion, the Transportation Department is considering altering traffic signal timing and lane usage at certain locations — including Tilden Street’s intersections with Beach Drive and Connecticut Avenue — to reduce queues; removing a stop sign at Beach Drive and Piney Branch Parkway to prevent a bottleneck; and restricting parking on Arkansas Avenue NW.

Overall, the project aims to reconstruct areas of uneven, patchy roads; improve storm drain infrastructure; install pavement markers, guardrails, rumble strips and other safety features for motorists and pedestrians; standardize signage and crosswalk design; and replace traffic signals and street lights.