A highway seen as crucial to the opening of Baltimore County's last 1,000-acre parcel of empty industrial land may finally be built, under a deal between the governor and county officials.
The 3.2-mile extension of White Marsh Boulevard from U.S. 40 to Eastern Boulevard would ease access to the county's eastern waterfront and to the long-vacant acreage known as the A. V. Williams site, where a $100 million motor sports raceway complex is proposed.
In 30 years, the road extension could produce up to 10,300 jobs and $13.9 million in combined state and county tax revenues, county economic development projections indicate.
"All signals are go," said Del. Kenneth Holt, an Essex Republican. The road "is an economic development road and a transportation road."
The first indication that the project may be moving forward came Thursday, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening included $2.1 million in engineering money for the road in his $300 million list of new transportation projects.
Not mentioned in Glendening's announcement was a side agreement under which the state after 2000 will provide about 80 percent of the estimated $60 million to $65 million in construction costs; and the county's agreement to match the engineering money and pay as much as $12 million toward construction.
"I'm ecstatic about it," County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said about the announcement, which brings the county closer to having the road built. "This is great news."
Movement on the project follows more than a decade of unfulfilled hopes about the road, a longtime priority for the county.
Now, the local business community, residents, and county and state politicians are in line. And the project fits with the governor's proposed Smart Growth anti-suburban-sprawl plan because it would encourage growth in the county's depressed southeast, not on rural farmland.
"We are investing in a project that represents the type of development we want," Glendening said in announcing the plan.
"Concentrating business activity in growth centers is consistent with our statewide program to prevent sprawl."
Ed Ziegenfuss, director of the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce, said he sees other benefits, too, especially for the county's eastern waterfront, where several commercial and housing developments are under consideration.
He said that 30 percent to 40 percent of boat owners whose vessels are in the area come from central and southeastern Pennsylvania. The new road will make waterfront access from Interstate 95 and the burgeoning White Marsh-Perry Hall area much easier.
Of course the deal is only as good as the intentions of whoever is governor after the next election, because the money hasn't been found and won't be needed until fiscal 2001.
But Ruppersberger believes the plan is a foot in the door for a deal that would make sense to any governor.
"The governor has to be applauded," Ruppersberger said of Glendening, who is facing uncertain re-election prospects next year.
"He's really done well for Baltimore County."
The plan has boosted hopes of planners of a 100,000-seat motor sports racing-entertainment complex on the land.
It also could revive plans for a 50,000-square-foot-exhibition hall there as well, a spinoff from plans to expand the state fairgrounds in Timonium.
Route 43 -- White Marsh Boulevard -- "is a very key factor if we're going to accommodate mass population events," said Joe Mattioli, chief of operations for the Middle River Racing Association.
He said the road will ease access for the 25,000 vehicles he expects to attend events at the complex and will help with plans for other facilities at the site, such as office buildings or other entertainment venues.
Mattioli says engineers and a development firm hired by the association are working on a development plan to submit to the county, though he couldn't say when that would happen.
Ruppersberger stressed that the road's importance is not tied to the raceway proposal. The extension will allow the land to be developed even if the plan fails.
The project also does not appear to be a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't vision like Worldbridge, the proposed Asian theme park and world trade center proposed for the land nearly a decade ago, a project that died in 1991.
Pub Date: 1/20/97