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Mass transit is ready to ease any Grand Prix headaches

Though much of the business community is cautiously optimistic that this year’s version of the Grand Prix of Baltimore will be more successful than last year’s, mass transportation operators in the city are hoping for results much like 2011’s inaugural run.

Though much of the business community is cautiously optimistic that this year’s version of the Grand Prix of Baltimore will be more successful than last year’s, mass transportation operators in the city are hoping for results much like 2011’s inaugural run.

The Maryland Transit Administration, which runs the light rail, Metro subway and city buses, is hoping for high riding numbers over the weekend as low-riding race cars zoom through closed downtown streets.

“We would anticipate a little spike,” said Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman. Owens could not immediately provide Grand Prix-specific ridership data for 2011, but MTA records show September 2011 ridership on city buses and Metro subway both increased over August, and were also over 2011 ridership averages.

The Charm City Circulator, operated by Veolia Transportation Inc. in a partnership with the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, saw a significant spike during last year’s race. The free bus service’s Orange and Purple routes combined to move 6,396 passengers on race day, 21 percent more than the average Saturday ridership for the rest of September, according to city data.

Mass closures of major city arteries made mass transit options more appealing in 2011, and may again in 2012. But Owens said MTA was also worried about losing ridership Friday, when some city companies are expected to close to spare their employees from the inevitable traffic created by street closures.

“The flip side is a lot of businesses downtown are closing up,” Owens said. “People are not working that day. … You just don’t know what people who might ordinarily commute will do.”

Tim Mayer, general manager of new race organizer Andretti Sports Marketing LLC, said the company has worked hard to dissuade companies from closing up shop for fear of traffic.

“Last year there was basically a rumor you weren’t going to be able to get downtown, but we’ve basically proven, through Sailabration … that the city can absorb big events,” Mayer said.

The circulator was a winner during the Star-Spangled Sailabration in June, as the bus service carried an average of more than 17,000 passengers per day on four different routes. The buses carried about 12,000 passengers per day in May.

Traffic delays were expected to begin Wednesday night, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority, when northbound Interstate 395 was set to close at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, cutting off access to Conway, Howard and Lee streets. Thursday morning, access to southbound I-395 from Howard and Conway streets is scheduled to close. The closure is expected to last until Monday at 5 a.m.

Then, on Thursday, the race course begins to shut down: Pratt Street will close between Paca and South streets; Light Street will close between Key Highway and Lombard Street; Howard Street will close between Lombard and Pratt streets; Paca Street will close between Lombard and Pratt streets; Calvert Street will close between Lombard and Pratt streets; Greene Street will close between Lombard Street and Washington Boulevard; and Eutaw Street will close between Pratt and West Camden streets.

All of those streets are scheduled to reopen Tuesday at 6 a.m.

The circulator will run revised routes on its Orange, Purple and Banner lines to adjust for the road closures, as will MTA buses. The light rail will still run, but the southbound train will terminate at Baltimore Street starting Thursday, and will continue to do so until Monday.

The northbound train will go to Camden Yards until one hour after Thursday’s Orioles baseball game, then will terminate at Hamburg Street until Monday.

Light rail shuttles buses will pick up passengers needing to travel further north or south over the weekend. Metro subway service will not be disrupted downtown.

Whether traffic disruptions will be minimal enough to bring workers and race attendees to the city in great numbers is unclear, as race organizers have not revealed how many tickets have been sold for the event.

The Maryland Transportation Authority expects 452,000 Labor Day weekend travelers to drive through the Fort McHenry Tunnel. In just its second year, there’s no telling how many will stop for the Grand Prix of Baltimore.

Daily Record business writer Alissa Gulin contributed to this article.