The State Highway Administration is making $2.5 million available for improvements to Route 140, the first of four projects that will make the highway eight lanes from Route 31 to Reese Road.
Work to widen the segment from Route 97 north to Route 27, a stretch used by about 40,000 vehicles daily, could begin within a year, officials said.
Plans call for reducing the grass-covered median to create a third travel lane on both sides of the highway. The right-turn-only lane from Route 97 to Gorsuch Road will be extended to Route 27 to provide motorists with safer turning and merging.
Transportation officials stress that these are improvements to the existing highway. The long-discussed Westminster bypass is as much as 20 years away.
"The state is not proceeding with the Westminster bypass at this time," said Janet E. Gregor, county transportation planner. "We are making improvements to existing Route 140 that came out of citizens' focus groups."
Phase One will go out to bid this fall, and construction could start next year. The unexpected money -- the county only recently learned of the windfall -- probably results from a project delayed elsewhere in the state.
"The state tries not to have money sitting around," Gregor said. "If there is a problem in one area and some other project is ready to go in another, there will be a shift in the money. We certainly did not expect to see this so soon."
First, however, the state must amend its transportation plan to show the improvements. A hearing on the amendments and the project is set for 6 p.m. tomorrow at Westminster Senior Center.
A retail chain has completed part of Phase One, shaving about $1 million off the estimated cost. Before Target built its store on the highway last year, Westminster officials required construction of a double left-turn lane from Route 140 to Route 97 south and triple left-turn lanes at Route 97 into Route 140. The savings may have been another factor in the state's decision to shift funding to Carroll County, Gregor said. However, that does not mean Carroll will recoup the savings and begin building the $1.5 million Phase Two: widening the highway to Sullivan Road.
"We may have gotten the money because we don't need it all," Gregor said. "Target has made a substantial contribution to this project."
Funding is approved only for "the first piece of a multistage project," she said. The remaining improvements on Route 140 will occur as money becomes available.
"Funding is tight, with more and more money needed to maintain roads," Gregor said. "That leaves less for new construction."
Once construction starts, she expects work to be completed quickly without major lane closings.
"We won't be tearing up and reconstructing existing road," she said. "That would require closings and delays. As highway projects go, this is relatively simple."
The next three phases include:
A third lane, on the east and west sides of the highway, from Route 27 to Sullivan Road.
Widening the bridges over Routes 27 and 97 north by building an additional lane on the outside of the spans. Cost is about $9 million.
The costliest phase, at $27 million, would create a fourth lane on each side of the highway.
"The last is the most expensive because of purchasing rights-of-way," Gregor said.
During the hearing, maps will show each phase, the location of all improvements and proposed land acquisition. Planners will make every effort to keep existing parking at businesses along the highway, she said.
"We recognize that parking is crucial to these businesses, and we do not want to take away spaces," Gregor said.
The project includes landscaping, sidewalks and improvements to the median.
"It will not be a guardrail like we have along Route 140 near the access to [Interstate] 795," Gregor said. "It will probably be raised concrete. But the state is finalizing those plans now with landscapers so that we don't have a freeway look."
Officials from the State Highway Administration and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council will attend the hearing to answer questions on the project. Maps and materials related to the project are available in Room 309 of the County Office Building and at the Westminster library branch.
The hearing is from 6 p.m. to 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow at Westminster Senior Center, Stoner Avenue. Information: 410-857-2096.
Pub Date: 8/04/97