Unsafe corner could get worse Restaurant approved at Route 140-Gorsuch likely to snarl traffic

February 17, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The intersection of Route 140 with Gorsuch Road had more than twice as many accidents in 1995 as any other in the Westminster area. And it's likely to get worse, say frustrated city officials.

Despite vigorous opposition, an Olive Garden restaurant is to be built at the corner on a site owned by Westminster Elks Club -- property at the heart of the Route 140 business corridor but outside the city limit.

"Now, [state highway officials] have designated it the No. 1 dangerous intersection here," said City Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr.

The Olive Garden proposal was approved in a 4-2 vote by the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission on Jan. 21.

Before the decision, Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works, had twice written to the planning board asking for a delay to study traffic.

"We gave them in writing our legitimate, serious concerns, and I guess they dealt with our concerns and moved on," Chapin said. "But I think it is a tragedy."

The State Highway Administration's 1995 report on highway accident locations for the Westminster area listed 23 accidents at Gorsuch Road and Route 140, six of them with serious injuries. The intersection had 11 accidents in 1994, and nine in 1993, according to an SHA spokeswoman.

The second-worst of the 15 high-accident locations around Westminster in 1995 was at Route 140 and Route 97, which had 11 accidents.

Four fatal accidents were listed for 1995, all at other locations.

The Route 140-Gorsuch Road intersection provides access to several establishments, including a Maria's restaurant in Westminster Professional Center, a McDonald's restaurant, Westminster Elks Club and the state Motor Vehicle Administration. All traffic must exit by Gorsuch Road.

Despite plans to improve the intersection, Beyard wrote, "[This]configuration creates an opportunity for head-on collisions, especially since all three restaurants with access at this same point will also have the same peak hours of operation."

No new review seen

Thomas G. Hiltz, chairman of the county planning commission since November, said that he didn't vote on the matter in his role as chairman, but that the city's concerns were considered.

"We reviewed and approved the site plan at our regular meeting in January [with] the proposed traffic-mitigation means that were being taken," he said. "We do not anticipate reviewing it again."

The restaurant won't open for a while, said Cathie Weinberg, a spokeswoman for the 489-restaurant Olive Garden chain -- owned by Darden Restaurants Inc. of Orlando, Fla., which also has more than 700 Red Lobster restaurants.

A Red Lobster originally had been proposed for Westminster.

"I haven't seen the situation, so I can't comment on the traffic," she said. "We're still very early in the process of building a restaurant and don't have any completion date yet.

"It's usually six, eight, 12 months once we start to open a restaurant -- and we don't even have a start date," Weinberg said.

Additional lanes planned

The developer plans to build an additional lane on Gorsuch Road, which would result in three southbound lanes: one for left turns only, one for left-turning or straight-ahead traffic and one for right turns only.

Beyard, in his letters to the county planning board, predicted gridlock from backed-up traffic on Route 140. He said at least one additional northbound lane is needed on Gorsuch Road, along the restaurant's frontage.

"It will get worse before it gets better. Our feeling is the traffic situation should be looked at," Beyard said. "You want to support economic development, but on the other hand, you don't want to make a bad situation worse."

Although the site is outside Westminster's corporate limits, the city reviewed the proposal under the Town-County Agreement that provides for joint review of development within one mile of the city line.

'We have no authority'

"It's done," Beyard said of the restaurant approval. "We have no authority: It's granted by the county planning commission; that's their prerogative."

Hiltz, the planning chairman, said he looks forward to a meeting with Westminster officials, tentatively scheduled for next month.

Pub Date: 2/17/97

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