Carroll's Ugly Welcome Mat CARROLL COUNTY

November 15, 1993

The idea of landscaping the median strip of Route 140 in Westminster is on the mark. The Carroll County commissioners should use their meeting scheduled for today with state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer to convince him to proceed with the project.

Unfortunately, forces within Carroll government seem intent on sabotaging this project. Arguments against it fall into two categories -- the cost and the impact of the plantings on the visibility of billboards.

When the landscaping was first suggested, the state government was prepared to pay for the estimated $100,000 to $125,000 cost of the plantings. The county would then be responsible for the maintenance of the trees and shrubs.

That cost is giving the commissioners second thoughts. Estimates for the annual pruning, fertilizing and spraying range from $8,500, if done by a private contractor, to $24,000, if county workers are used.

G. Michael Whitson, chief of the county's Land Management Bureau, apparently doesn't like the project. No one has questioned why his estimated maintenance costs are more than double that of using a private contractor.

Mr. Whitson also contends that his workers' safety would be jeopardized by the landscaping plan. County employees could be struck by passing vehicles if they have to care for the plantings, he said. He fails to mention that road workers, survey crews and citizen volunteers picking up garbage regularly work along this busy thoroughfare without incident.

As for obscuring billboards with trees, anything the county or the state does toward that end will be welcomed. The outdoor advertising that crowds Route 140 detracts from what is otherwise some of the most beautiful roadside scenery in the state. If the county commissioners come down on the side of the billboard owners, they are supporting ugliness.

And if they are as interested in economic development as they say, they should do all they can to improve the appearance of the main road that greets visitors, not to mention residents, heading from Baltimore into the heart of the county. With its current tacky appearance, Route 140 creates a terrible first impression for Carroll and probably discourages investment.

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