White Marsh Blvd. extension expected to receive approval

Road carries promise of increased commerce to depressed east side

November 22, 1999|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Federal officials are expected to approve next month the much-awaited $63 million extension of White Marsh Boulevard, a highway carrying the promise of commerce, jobs and quality housing to Baltimore County's economically depressed east side.

In addition to opening for development about 2,000 acres of prime woodland, county leaders predict the road will attract investors for the county's expansive waterfront, envisioned as a tourist gold coast of marinas, restaurants, shops and parks.

"After more than 30 years of neglect, the east side and the region have a brighter future," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

The route for extending Route 43 from Pulaski Highway to Eastern Boulevard was approved two months ago by state Department of Transportation officials who have submitted the plan to five federal agencies.

"We're working closely with federal highway and environmental regulatory agencies to get their concurrence," said Heather Murphy, State Highway Administration project manager. "Everyone knew some environmental impact was unavoidable but that has been minimized. The `fast track' condition of this project is in good shape."

Construction of the 3.5 mile road can start in two years and could be open in 2005, she said.

The project's construction will be funded primarily with about $50 million in state funds while the county has set aside $12 million. Each has budgeted $2 million for planning and right of way work.

"The state continues to work hand in hand with the county to move their No. 1 priority forward," said Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, adding that money for Route 43 will be included in the state's anticipated $1.2 billion transportation budget for next year.

"At this point, we can't say if the entire $50 million will be included this time around or if it will be phased in over the near future," said Cahalan. "But the commitment is there."

State Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat and chairman of the county Senate delegation, was equally optimistic for a road he has called the "rainbow leading to the east side's pot of gold."

"The money is there. The road is moving through the process fast for a transportation issue. I'm very confident the road will be there in 2005," said Collins.

The extension, dubbed "alternate D modified," was chosen from among five alternatives because it has the least impact on the environment and on residents in the area, Murphy said. The road will cross about 8 acres of wetlands and Windlass Run, leaving about 190 acres of wetlands undisturbed.

The road's swing over Bird River Road will dislocate five homeowners and one business, a welding shop. The displaced will be compensated according to their property assessments.

"They can put the road where they want but we just want to be sure we're justly compensated," said John Reames, who, with his wife, Malinda, will move from Bird River Road.

Other alternates could have displaced as many as 20 property owners.

The extension would run through a large wooded tract known as the A. V. Williams property and smaller adjacent parcels. In previous years, those sites had been eyed for development by different corporations. At separate times in the 1960s and 1970s, automakers and Westinghouse Electric Corp. found the location attractive but didn't develop it because of inadequate infrastructure.

In the 1980s, a proposed theme park and trade center faded after protests by area residents. Two years ago, developers of a so-called world-class auto racing track left after they could not attract NASCAR-sponsored events or backing from Ruppersberger.

After two years of stormy community meetings on the road extension -- one of which was punctuated by a local business representative describing Essex as "desperate" for new development -- state officials decided on "alternate D modified."

The new road will be a divided four-lane highway with four intersections controlled by traffic signals. Separate lanes would be constructed off the road's shoulders for recreational and commuter cyclists.

A 24-foot-wide median strip will be landscaped with trees, Murphy said.

The highway will end at Eastern Boulevard across from the main entrance to Martin State Airport and near the Lockheed Martin Corp. Aerostructures plant. The road will pass Chesapeake Industrial Park and the Maryland Rail Commuter rail station near its end.

Up to 45,000 vehicles are expected to use the new road, easing traffic on other overused arteries, Murphy said.

"In a way, 43 will act as an outer Beltway," said county planning director Arnold F. Keller. "The road will connect a large untapped area to better transportation on I-95, the Baltimore Beltway, into the city and beyond."

Officials expect developers to build office parks and distribution plants on the land that is zoned light industrial, with the prospect, economic development officials say, of creating 15,000 jobs. County planners expect that builders will seek to rezone part of the land for housing.

County officials, however, are likely to be cautious about high-density projects such as apartments or townhouses. Four years ago, Florida-based developer Victor Posner dropped his plan for 900 townhouses below Holly Hill Memorial Gardens Cemetery after it met early opposition from Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat.

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