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District to Resist Scheme to Close Major Road
By Brian DeBose
copyright @2003 THE WASHINGTON TIMES

     Federal officials want to close Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, a major route to the Maryland suburbs, for six hours every day, and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has asked the National Park Service to reconsider.

     The road would be one of the city's swiftest escape routes in a national emergency.

     The plan calls for Beach Drive from Joyce Road to Broad Branch Road to be closed to vehicles from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday.

     "Right now I think it's time to slow down a little bit, given what happened with traffic on September 11 and with the heightened state of alert," Mr. Williams said Tuesday at a Ward 4 emergency preparedness meeting.

     The proposal appeared March 14 in the Federal Register and was part of the National Park Service's general management plan for Rock Creek Park.  The narrow, two-lane section has no shoulder. Since the 1970s, residents have been saying that the road should be reserved for cycling, hiking and other non-vehicular activities.

     Mr. Williams supported the six-hour weekday closure instead of blocking the road permanently, but he told The Washington Times yesterday that everybody involved "should think closely about the impact on the city before any action is taken."

     That section of Beach Drive already is closed to vehicular traffic on Saturdays and Sundays.  Mr. Williams and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, both Democrats, and many others already are upset about the U.S. Secret Service closures of Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street, two major east-west thoroughfares.

     Park service officials did not return telephone calls.

     Neighbors and City Council members also continue a decade-old debate about whether to reopen Klingle Road, an east-west route also in Rock Creek Park.

     D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, says he will fight the closure of Beach Drive and that he has the backing of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in Wards 3 and 4.  "I think this proposal has no support in the community given the traffic logjams that already exist on our major roads," he said.

     Sources close to the issue said the Federal Register left the park service unprepared to deal with the backlash and questions from reporters after placing the final draft plan in its online publication.

     Mr. Fenty said nearby 16th Street, Military Road, and Connecticut and Oregon avenues often are gridlocked, "and closing Beach Drive will only make that worse."

     Anne Renshaw, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for the Chevy Chase area in Northwest, said the commission has not taken a formal stance but will hold hearings and vote on an official position.  "But I do not want to see [Beach Drive] closed during any part of the week," she said.     Mrs. Renshaw said many Chevy Chase residents are retired and use that section of Beach Drive during the day.  The closure also would affect residents of nearby 16th Street Heights, Takoma, Brightwood and Crestwood neighborhood, she said.

     The People's Alliance for Rock Creek, an organization supporting more recreational use on Beach Drive, supports the proposal.  "Our feeling is there are a lot of reasons to do this, most important the health of the park's ecosystem," said Ellen Jones, the alliance's executive director.  She said the alliance for seven years has asked for a permanent closure of that section of Beach Drive, "but [the current proposal] is a reasonable compromise." She said the plan will not affect commuters but will accommodate residents who use the park.

     Residents in Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Kensington use the road as an alternative to the bottleneck traffic on Interstate 495 and Georgia, Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues, even after the rush hours.

     Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said he could not comment on the issue last night because he had insufficient information.

For additional information, please email support@repairklingleroad.org