Baltimore's top transportation officials sought to reassure residents Monday that while several of the city's busiest streets would close for the Labor Day weekend Grand Prix road race, the downtown itself would remain open for business.
The city's transportation director, Khalil Zaied, and his aides outlined a detailed plan for gradually shutting down streets in the area between the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards in the days leading up to the series of races from Sept. 2 to Sept. 4.
The event, the first of its kind in Baltimore, has involved the extensive reconstruction of some downtown streets — much to the chagrin of many residents and commuters. But city officials say the event, which they expect will draw more than 100,000 visitors during a normally slow weekend, will more than make up for whatever aggravation it has caused.
"We fully believe the benefits to Baltimore will be well worth it," Zaied said. He and other transportation officials stressed that the city would maintain access to downtown businesses throughout the week leading up to the race.
Jay Davidson, chief executive of Grand Prix organizer Baltimore Racing Development LLC, said the street repairs needed for the race were almost complete.
"The road work looks excellent. The sightlines are going to be wonderful," he said.
He said representatives of the Indy Cars organization were pleased with the work. Once the repairs are finished, he said, the roads will be in shape for the full five-year run that the city and Grand Prix organizers have agreed on.
Davidson added that ticket sales have been "very strong."
Jamie Kendrick, deputy transportation director, put the cost of the road improvements at $5.5 million, a total that will be shared by the city and the Grand Prix.
James Harkness, deputy chief of the Transportation Department's Traffic Division, said that on July 25 crews would begin installing the barriers that will line the roads on the race route. He said the work would be done at night to minimize disruption.
Harkness said the work would begin on Light Street and proceed to Conway, Howard, Lee, Russell and Paca streets, as well as the north side of Pratt Street. During the week of Aug. 22, he said, road walls would be installed on the south side of Pratt.
Road closings will follow, starting the night of Aug. 29 and gradually increasing as the week progresses. The Wednesday before the race — Aug. 31 — the city will close Interstate 395 and Howard Street to allow construction of the race course where it crosses the light-rail tracks outside Camden Yards.
During the race, Martin Luther King Boulevard will be the main southern thoroughfare into the city, Harkness said.
By Sept. 1, the day before the race, extensive closings will be in place on major streets, including Light, Pratt, Conway, Russell and Howard.
The race will force the city and the Maryland Transit Administration to adjust bus routes that normally run through downtown. The Purple Route of the Charm City Circulator will be split into two shorter routes, one between Penn Station and the Inner Harbor and the other circulating through South Baltimore. The circulator's Orange Route will be moved from Pratt Street to Baltimore Street.
MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells said 24 bus routes that run through downtown would be affected by the race. He added that the light-rail line would be closed between the Hamburg Street station and Baltimore Street starting the day before the race and continuing through Labor Day. A shuttle bus will circle around downtown, he said.
Kendrick said the city would make sure residents had the best information about alternate routes. He said the city was setting up a website — still under construction at http://www.gptraffic.com — to provide detailed information about road closings, alternate routes and transit changes.
"The key for this really is to plan ahead," he said.
The city will hold three public meetings about the race plans this week: on from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center; from 4 p.m. to to 6 p.m. Thursday at the Marriott Waterfront; and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Tremont Grand.