Racing away from Essex NASCAR proposal: With access to highways, Anne Arundel location makes more sense.

December 31, 1997

PLANS FOR A $100 million raceway in Essex appear to be dying, if not dead, which increasingly looks like a good thing. While the idea of a track to bring excitement and an economic boost to Baltimore County's east side is appealing, it is now clear that the proposed site -- the A.V. Williams property -- is not suited to what the Middle River Racing Association wants to do.

It wishes to open by 1999, before other new tracks snatch up coveted NASCAR dates. Unfortunately, time cannot be of the essence at the Williams site. There is no access. Widening some country roads and shuttling buses down others -- the short-term answer suggested by racing supporters -- is insufficient. Major development depends on extension of Route 43 from Interstate 95, which will not be complete until 2001 or 2002. The state has not even determined an alignment for the road.

Even if Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger were willing to let the track clog local roads until Route 43 is complete, Middle River Racing could not move until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rules on federal permits required whenever wetlands are a factor. There are 350 acres of wetlands on this site. Army Corps approval is not expected to happen until at least 2001 -- if then.

Mr. Ruppersberger offered an alternative involving county and developer contributions toward more substantive road improvements. But this would mean at least a year's delay, which the developers seem unwilling to accept. We say "seem" because they have ignored Mr. Ruppersberger's request for a response to his counter-offer and have been negotiating in other places, from Illinois to elsewhere in Maryland.

In fact, an Anne Arundel County site being considered, west of Fort George G. Meade near Route 32, is a better location because it is already accessible to major highways. The issues there will be community reaction and whether the track is desirable even if it cannot attract NASCAR events. As for Baltimore County, it will be better off in the long run minus the track. Once Route 43 is extended, the Williams site should prove a magnet for commercial development. Long-term projections show 6,224 new jobs if the site is developed as planned -- compared to 507 jobs created by a speedway.

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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