EDITOR’S NOTE: The National Park Service announced Tuesday that the closures of Beach Drive, originally scheduled to begin Sept. 19, would instead begin Sept. 22. This story has been updated to reflect the latest announcement.
WASHINGTON — Thousands of commuters in the District will need to find a new route around a major work zone by next week when the National Park Service closes a large stretch of Beach Drive.
The closure will mark the beginning of a long-term rehabilitation project and detours will remain in place for several years.
A 2-mile-long segment of Beach Drive near the National Zoo will close on Thursday, Sept. 22, said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, spokeswoman for the park service.
“The National Park Service is getting ready to begin up to a three-year rehabilitation project to completely repave the 6-and-a half mile stretch of Beach Drive through the District of Columbia,” Anzelmo-Sarles said.
Drivers should expect Beach Drive to be closed between Tilden Street and the Rock Creek Parkway.
During the morning rush hour, southbound traffic will be detoured onto Tilden Street, past Pierce Mill and into Cleveland Park or onto Park Road toward Mount Pleasant.
During the afternoon rush hour, northbound traffic on Rock Creek Parkway will not be allowed to proceed through the park and will be sent uphill into Woodley Park by way of Cathedral Avenue or Calvert Street.
Traffic on Piney Branch Parkway and Porter Street will be able to use a small section of Beach Drive to cut across Rock Creek Park during the first few months of work, said Anzelmo-Sarles.
Tilden Street and Park Road will be remain open across Beach Drive throughout the entire project.
“There are going to be impacts and delays from this project so drivers should start planning for that — start thinking about other ways to get where they need to go,” she said.
Detours could double traffic on surrounding roads
The posted detour around the work will send drivers onto Connecticut Avenue through Cleveland Park and Woodley Park. More than 25,000 vehicles travel the soon-to-be closed stretch of Beach Drive daily, according the District Department of Transportation — nearly the same daily average volumes measured on Connecticut Avenue.
Because so many drivers will be affected by the construction, the Federal Highway Administration suggests alternate routes as far west as Massachusetts Avenue and Reno Road and as far east as Georgia Avenue and 14th Street NW. Local and federal transportation agencies expect that many north-south routes like 16th Street NW will see more traffic because of the closure.
The park service along with DDOT expect painful delays near the construction zone, especially during the first week as drivers are attempting to figure out how best to recalculate their travel routes.
During the first week or two, the traffic pattern on each side of Rock Creek Park will likely be tumultuous and unpredictable. With such a busy road suddenly off-limits, drivers will face a steep learning curve as nearby routes flood with displaced travelers.
Traffic patterns to change along detours
Contractors are in the process of altering traffic patterns along the detour routes in order to help keep traffic flowing. Over the next several days, the stop signs along Cathedral Avenue at Woodley Road and Hawthorne Street will be removed and the intersections will be re-striped.
DDOT is also expected to retime the traffic signal at Connecticut Avenue and Cathedral Avenue to give detoured drivers more green time. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that the number of southbound left turns from Connecticut Avenue onto Cathedral Avenue will double during the morning rush hour, from 526 to 1,233 vehicles.
DDOT also plans to add a phasing, left-turn signal for westbound traffic on Tilden Street at Connecticut Avenue. Traffic control officers will be staged at the intersection with Porter Street and Connecticut Avenue where federal highway officials expect a 200 percent increase in turning traffic.
Future Beach Drive closures
Beach Drive will be rehabilitated section by section. By next spring, as soon as the revamped section of Beach Drive near the zoo reopens, the next segment will be closed between Tilden Street and Broad Branch Road.
By 2018, the work will have migrated northward to between Broad Branch Road to Joyce Road. The final section to be rehabilitated will be between Joyce Road and the D.C.-Maryland line, but is still several years away.
Concerns for pedestrians, residents
Walkers and cyclists will be able to proceed through the work zone on either the path or designated sections of the road during construction. Anzelmo-Sarles said crews plan to erect a temporary, protected lane through the work area while the path is closed. The narrow sidewalk inside the Zoo Tunnel will be widened by a few inches, the park service said.
Several residents have expressed concerns about the extra traffic that will be coursing through Cleveland Park and Woodley Park residential streets during construction.
“The big concern is the amount of commuter traffic that is going to be rerouted to Connecticut Avenue … it’s awfully hard to predict how that could lead to anything but an incredible traffic mess, ” said Area Neighborhood Commissioner Nancy MacWood.
The Beach Drive project will also coincide with a closure on Metro’s Red Line, which will reduce the number of trains running between the Maryland suburbs and D.C. for several weeks. The Red Line work was set for this fall but changes to the Metro’s SafeTrack schedule could shift those repairs.