Governor promises to speed up extension of White Marsh Blvd. $65-million project aims to revive Middle River

October 30, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Just days before the election, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has promised in writing to speed up construction of the proposed White Marsh Boulevard extension -- a project Baltimore County officials say is vital to developing nearly 1,000 acres of industrial land in Middle River.

In a tight re-election contest, the move could help Glendening shore up support in the county which Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey won by 32,000 votes four years ago.

The political effect could be muted, however, since virtually all politicians -- including Sauerbrey -- favor building the highway as soon as possible.

The $65-million, 3.2-mile extension of Route 43 -- which would connect U.S. 40 to Eastern Boulevard -- has long been one of the county's top transportation priorities, ranking just behind the widening of Interstate 695.

County officials say the highway could help generate up to 10,000 jobs and $13.9 million in tax revenues over 30 years.

Delays in the project over the last decade helped kill two major development proposals in the Middle River area -- the Worldbridge Asian theme park and trade center proposed in the late 1980s and a motorsports raceway.

Leaders of the economically depressed area believe the road would not only allow development of the land it would bisect, but also provide easy access from more prosperous Perry Hall and White Marsh to county waterfront restaurants and marinas.

"We've nicknamed the extension of Route 43 'Prosperity Way,' " said Norman Sines, president of the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce.

County Economic Development Director Robert L. Hannon says the roadway would extend the economic boom enjoyed by the White Marsh area into the county's southeast corner.

The latest gubernatorial promise is one of several announced as ZTC Tuesday's general election draws closer, including $2 million in federal money for reconstruction of the Beltway interchange at Reisterstown Road and approval of long-denied sound barriers for the Longford North neighborhood along Interstate 83 north of the Beltway.

During his first term, Glendening has pumped nearly $40 million in state money into county highway projects, including $31.5 million for a fourth lane to the outer loop of the Beltway in the southwestern county from Frederick Road to U.S. 1, and money for improvements to Belair Road, streetscape projects along Liberty and Reisterstown roads and along Loch Raven Boulevard.

The state also completed a $58 million widening of the Beltway between Reisterstown Road and I-83.

Glendening's promise about the White Marsh Boulevard extension this week follows a more general one made in January when he agreed to earmark $2 million in planning and engineering money for the road extension and provide construction money later.

The step is important, county officials say, because for the first time, it commits the administration -- in writing -- to providing 80 percent of construction funding as soon as federal design and environmental reviews are completed. "It doesn't leave the door open to other jurisdictions" to get the federal money for their own projects, said county Public Works Director Charles R. "Bob" Olsen.

The county has designated $12 million in its own capital budget to cover the local share.

A public hearing should come next fall with federal approval expected by 2000. Construction could begin the following year.

"We've got it on the fast track," State Highway Administrator Parker F. Williams said.

Pub Date: 10/30/98

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