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Baltimore Grand Prix traffic plans take shape

While the Baltimore Grand Prix will bring high-speed traffic to streets near the Inner Harbor on Labor Day weekend, traffic near the race course during and leading up to the event may be more stop than go for many drivers.

The Baltimore City Department of Transportation announced Monday its plan for road closures and traffic disruptions downtown during the pre-race construction process and the race itself, which runs from Sept. 2 to Sept. 4.

“We know there’s going to be disruption, we know there’s going to be inconvenience. … The key is for people to plan ahead,” said Jamie Kendrick, the department’s deputy director of administration.

The plan calls for closing many downtown streets beginning at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31 and ending by 6 a.m. Sept. 6. Details about street closures will be made available on the Department of Transportation’s website Wednesday.

The Grand Prix will also affect bus routes. Many bus routes will be diverted around the downtown area and the Charm City Circulator’s purple line will stop running between Baltimore Street and Montgomery Street for the holiday weekend.

Additionally, the light rail will halt service between Hamburg Street and Baltimore Street from Sept. 1 to Sept. 6, with shuttle buses filling the gap. Metro subway service will not be affected.

Placement of prefabricated race walls along the race course will begin July 25 and continue throughout August. The placement will be done primarily at night to limit traffic congestion. Some race walls will be placed on curbs while others will be in traffic lanes.

The race walls will restrict some access to on-street parking. During the race, many ticketholders will have access to pre-sold parking spaces.

Grand Prix organizers are working directly with businesses that may be affected by the road closures and parking restrictions, said Lonnie Fisher, the Grand Prix’s executive director.

“Our one goal is to keep Baltimore moving and open for business,” said Khalil Zaied, director of the Department of Transportation.

The city is providing a route-planning website, gptraffic.com, that will direct drivers around construction areas and closed roads.

“If residents and visitors plan ahead and use the tools we provide, they’ll be able to get where they need to go,” Kendrick said.

While the Department of Transportation maintains that the road closures and lane reductions should not present too much of a challenge to drivers, others are skeptical.

“While it is certainly an exciting event and probably will bode well for the economy, there will obviously be some traffic disruption that will affect motorists and residents throughout the holiday weekend with all of the street closures in the downtown area,” said driver advocacy group AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella.

“Clearly the traffic has been affecting downtown off and on for the past year or so,” said Mike Evitts, spokesman for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. Evitts said his organization has focused on increasing communication between city officials and residents to make the process run more smoothly.

The total cost of construction for the Baltimore Grand Prix is about $5.5 million, Kendrick said. The city of Baltimore has a contract to continue to host the race for five years. Kendrick said any further construction needed throughout the contract would be minimal after this summer.

Kendrick said the process of taking down the race walls will take two to three weeks and will be done primarily at night to reduce the impact on drivers.

Public meetings will be held later this week at which point the detailed maps of road closures will be made available online. The meetings will be at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 4 p.m. Thursday at the Marriott Waterfront and 11 a.m. Friday at the Tremont Grand.