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Baltimore Grand Prix event gets new date, layout

Traffic on Pratt Street is tied up Monday afternoon as construction continues on the course for next year’s Baltimore Grand Prix, which now will be held on Labor Day weekend.

Traffic on Pratt Street is tied up Monday afternoon as construction continues on the course for next year’s Baltimore Grand Prix, which now will be held on Labor Day weekend.

The first Baltimore Grand Prix has a new date and a new route, and race organizers hope the changes will entice more visitors to the city for the three-day event.

The race will be held over Labor Day weekend of 2011, about a month later than organizers had originally planned, Baltimore Racing Development Corp. announced Monday.

Baltimore Racing CEO Jay Davidson said Sept. 2-4 is the weekend organizers originally wanted, before the race was eventually slotted into the IndyCar Racing League schedule in early August.

“Having the Grand Prix on Labor Day weekend makes it even easier for fans to make travel plans to attend this action-packed ‘three day festival of speed’ in downtown Baltimore,” Davidson said.

Holding the race at the later date will also give BRD access to the Baltimore Convention Center, where the race teams will set up shop for the weekend. Davidson said that the “paddock” area inside the track will be a popular attraction for race fans.

“Labor Day Weekend will provide another full day for racing fans to enjoy all that Baltimore has to offer and with any luck, slightly cooler temperatures,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in a written statement.

In the new design, the track will swing around the south side of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and pit row will be moved from the west side of the stadium to the east, alongside the warehouse. On what was a straight stretch along Conway Street, drivers will dodge between breaks in the median. And the transition from Russell Street to the straightaway on Pratt Street has been tweaked.

Cars are expected to hit 185 mph along the half-mile stretch, before turning on to Light Street.

To accommodate the high speeds and tight turns, the city has a slate of road paving and widening projects set to stretch into next summer that already have commuters crawling through morning and evening rush hours.

On Pratt Street, where crews have shut down two lanes of traffic while they replace the aged concrete slabs, work is expected to be completed by late October. Three southbound lanes of Light Street are closed between Lombard and Pratt, so the intersection of Pratt and Light can be rebuilt over the next two weeks. Two northbound lanes on Light have been closed on the other side of Pratt for additional paving.

“With 2,500 to 3,000 vehicles traveling on Pratt Street daily, there is bound to be congestion when you shut down two lanes,” said Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Transportation. “We just ask that motorists be patient with us, leave early, plan ahead and take alternate routes.”

The department has restricted parking along Baltimore Street in hopes of easing the load on Pratt, and has deployed traffic officers and altered the timing of traffic lights to keep vehicles flowing into the city in the morning, and out of it in the evening, Barnes said.

Joe Hooper, the department’s project manager for the downtown roadwork, said Lee Street will be the site of the next set of lane closures in late October. The road is being widened and utility companies will have to move lines and mains to accommodate the new layout.

Milling and repaving of Russell and Conway streets, two more key arteries for drivers entering downtown from Interstate 95, could begin as early as mid-March, Hooper said.

Under the city’s contract with BRD, the city is using a $5 million federal grant and $2.75 million borrowed against future state funding to fix streets, sidewalks, street signs and traffic signals along the race route. All the work is scheduled to be completed by July 8.

Barnes said the paving would have been done eventually, but had to be compressed into a narrow window to finish it before the race, leaving commuters with little chance for respite.

“There’s never a good time to do downtown roadways,” she said.