In the week before Route 43 opened to traffic, SHA contractors were still hard at work. Seen Oct. 16 through a rear-view mirror, a roller operator smooths the road.
With a parade of firetrucks, the Perry Hall High School marching band and a plane pulling a banner announcing "Route 43: now open for business," federal, state and local officials opened the new 3.8-mile extension of the highway from White Marsh to Middle River on Oct. 23.
"We built a road, not just for transportation but for economic development," said County Executive Jim Smith, who brought Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger up to the podium for the opening ceremonies. When he was county executive, Ruppersberger kicked off the project, which took five years and $75 million to complete.
Now that the so-called "Road to Opportunity" is open, county officials are looking for -- and in some cases, finding -- measurable results.
Construction has started on Baltimore Crossroads, the 1.5 million-square-foot business community built around the road, and signed tenants include Alexander's Mobility Services and Wawa. The development is expected to generate $460 million in new private investment and up to 10,000 new jobs.
Among those at the opening were the purchasers of the former General Services Administration Depot, now known as Middle River Station, a 1.9 million-square-foot complex on 50 acres at Route 43 and Eastern Boulevard.
Bidding as "believe1," the purchasers agreed to pay $37.5 million for the complex in an online auction run by the GSA. Although the GSA has yet to identify them, and they have yet to identify themselves publicly, they introduced themselves to local officials Oct. 23.
Jeffrey Spatz, an attorney with Gordon Feinblatt, said he represented the buyers, Middle River Station Development LLC. (The limited liability company formed Sept. 29, using Gordon Feinblatt's address on Redwood Street in Baltimore, according to the state Department of Assessment and Taxation's Web site.)
The GSA has approved the contract and the sale should close in a few months, Spatz said.
In the meantime, he said, Route 43 "definitely enhances the property and the community."
The largest parcel along the road --1,000 acres formerly known as the A.V. Williams property -- includes 10 land bays, with 5 million square feet of flex, office, warehouse and industrial space and 400,000 square feet of retail space.
Led by Bethesda-based Somerset Construction, St. John Properties, First Industrial Properties Trust and Chesapeake Real Estate Group are developing the property; so far, most of it is available.
"Until the tenants can kick the tires and drive up to it, it's really hard in the real estate market," said David Iannucci, executive director of the county's Department of Economic Development.
In addition, the developers will proceed deliberately, leaving some ground for later projects, said Michael Caruthers, Somerset's president.
"We don't want to make a mistake. We'll determine at a later date what will go there," Caruthers said, noting an expected influx of jobs as a result of the federal base realignment and closure process.
With its location between Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade, "we're going to see some energy" along Route 43, Caruthers said. "We're ready to rock and roll and can provide something no one else can."
Chesapeake Real Estate Group, a commercial brokerage, construction and development company in Glen Burnie, purchased 240 acres in Baltimore Crossroads.
Jim Lighthizer, a partner with Chesapeake, said the company will break ground soon on its first 215,000 square feet of space, part of their section's planned 1.5 million square feet of industrial space in nine buildings.
Lighthizer said Chesapeake already has signed a tenant, which he declined to name, that plans to move its headquarters -- with 400 jobs in 60,000 square feet of space -- to Baltimore Crossroads.
Construction of the Route 43 extension and a parallel hiker-biker trail included rehabilitating three bridges, widening the Route 40 bridge and building five new bridges, including an Amtrak-MARC crossing.
Although it had been described as costing about $68 million, and the final price was higher, the project was completed "on time and on budget," according to State Highway Administration officials. (The final price includes private money and the costs of bridge work on Route 40 and more parking space at the MARC station on Eastern Boulevard, officials said.)
Work on the Middle River MARC station -- increasing the number of parking spaces from 149 to 321 -- is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The state Department of Transportation has dedicated $88 million to other Baltimore County projects, including new lanes on Interstate 95 and a transit-oriented development in Owings Mills, Secretary Robert Flanagan said.
"It's important to improve transportation and infrastructure in the Baltimore area," Flanagan said. "There's a lot going on in the county and a lot more in store for the county."
Calling the highway's extension "a huge economic engine," Flanagan said Route 43 will improve mobility in the area and factor into base closure and realignment requirements, which could bring as many as 60,000 jobs to Maryland.
The main benefit of the road is "to people," he said: "People who go to work, visit relatives, go shopping. It will make their traffic much easier."