A new plan to improve traffic flow on Route 140 with separate express and local traffic lanes is unlikely to be built or even to be studied in-depth, say state officials, who are proceeding with other design plans for upgrading to the county's main highway.
A consultant working with state transportation planners presented a fifth improvement plan Wednesday night to a local task force studying the issue. Planners have no cost estimate for the proposal.
The conceptual plan calls for a four-lane highway in each direction on Route 140, with two express lanes on the inside and two outside lanes to serve local motorists and provide access to businesses on the existing highway.
The express lanes would drop to underpasses at crossroads and the outside local lanes would remain at their current grade. Bridges would be constructed at crossroads to carry local traffic over the underpasses.
The proposal was developed at the request of the local task force, but state officials say it appears to be too expensive for serious consideration.
"It doesn't look very desirable, but we're going to be looking at it a little more," said Gene R. Straub, a district engineer with the State Highway Administration.
Mr. Straub said the project would require the purchase of additional right-of-way space, the construction of 22-foot-high retaining walls and the elimination of a grassy landscaped median.
"It would drastically change the nature of the highway," he said.
State highway planners said they will move ahead witdevelopment for another Route 140 improvement plan, called Alternate 2.
The plan, presented to the County Commissioners on Tuesday, calls for four lanes of traffic in each direction. The cost is estimated at $40 million and the plan would displace one business -- the Amoco gas station at Englar Road -- and business parking spaces along the two-mile section of Route 140.
"We're committed to spend time between now and September to lessen the impact on parking spaces," said Neil J. Pedersen, SHA's director of planning and preliminary engineering. The task force is scheduled to meet again next fall.
State traffic planners estimate that construction on Alternate 2 is at least 10 years away, but they have recommended a plan for interim improvements to Route 140 that could begin within two years.
Highway officials say that the interim improvements combined with the Alternate 2 plan should accommodate traffic increases on Route 140 through 2010.
"We could probably put off for a number of years any consideration of going beyond that," Mr. Pedersen said.
The interim improvement plan, to be completed in three stages, has an estimated cost of $13 million, which is included in the $40 million cost of Alternate 2.
The first phase calls for three through lanes and a right turn lane in each direction between Sullivan Road and Route 97 South.
The second phase would improve the intersection of Route 97 South and Route 140 by adding left turn lanes. The project's third phase is a widening of the bridges at Routes 140 and 27 and Routes 140 and 97 north.
State officials have said that construction of a Westminster bypass is at least 20 years away because of competition for money among other regional highway projects.
State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff told the County Commissioners on Tuesday that the state will push for construction of a Westminster bypass if county officials support the project.
SHA officials recommended a modified plan for the northern route of the Westminster bypass, with an estimated cost of $225 million.
The bypass would merge with Route 140 near Reese Road and include interchanges at Routes 27 and 97. It would tie into Route 140 again just west of Hughes Shop Road.