Carroll commissioner revives idea to extend I-795 to ease congestion But state has no plan to create superhighway

September 18, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Looking to relieve traffic on Carroll County's congested roads, Commissioner Donald I. Dell has again floated the idea of extending Interstate 795, a move that would create a superhighway from downtown Baltimore to Westminster.

The state has no plans to fulfill such a pipe dream -- one with a $600 million to $1 billion price tag -- but Dell's idea revived nightmare visions of development steamrolling through neighborhoods, farmland and wetlands.

"You would be opening that whole corridor there for development, all that agricultural land," observed outgoing Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who was defeated Tuesday in a race for the House of Delegates.

The idea for an extended interstate has surfaced sporadically -- generally exciting developers and economic-growth officials, and upsetting residents.

Dell, who was a winner in Tuesday's Republican primary for commissioner, said he has asked Carroll planners to study the possibility of extending I-795, using the county's new computer mapping program.

"We were just talking about the bypasses and I said, 'Why don't you do that along 795?' " he said, referring to the computer program. "It wasn't for us to have any action on, just for our information, a matter of interest."

Specifically, planners said they were asked to determine whether an extension of I-795 would relieve congestion on Routes 140 and 30 and eliminate the need for proposed bypasses at Westminster, Hampstead and Manchester.

The resulting report, released yesterday, deals only with traffic flow -- not with factors such as acquiring 800 acres of land, 20 stream crossings and other concerns related to Liberty Reservoir, agriculture and land use, planners said.

As Steven C. Horn, the county's chief of planning, began his report yesterday afternoon, Dell interrupted to say: "Before we get the press all excited, this was not to eliminate the Hampstead bypass. That's a go."

Horn presented the findings, prepared with Senior Transportation Planner Gregory M. Jones and Transportation Planner Eric Soter. Under the only feasible scenario for an extension, three bypasses and two spurs would still be required to eliminate congestion along Routes 140 and 30.

"What sense does that make?" Brown asked. "We've got 140 now, with four lanes, and they're talking about making it six lanes."

Said Commissioner Richard T. Yates, looking at a map that showed route scenarios: "Forgive me, but this looks like a stairway to the stars." Yates was defeated for re-election in Tuesday's primary.

Neil Ridgely, a Finksburg resident who is Hampstead town manager, said of the extension idea: "It is hooey."

"The only reason to extend 795 is to exploit Carroll County's development potential," he said. "There is no benefit to the residents here."

Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster director of planning and public works, compared the chances of extending I-795 to "a snowball in hell -- with Smart Growth and agricultural preservation -- to take an interstate and run it right through Carroll County."

"The I-795 extension is Donald Dell's pet project -- he thinks it will eliminate the need to build the Hampstead or Westminster bypasses," Beyard said.

"But it's been thrown up and shot down so many times, if you had a six-shooter it would be empty. The Hampstead bypass is an important project. It's first in line, but Westminster's has nTC gotten through the planning stages -- the Regional Transportation Plan, approval by the state. The state has sent strong messages of support for it, so we're already there," he said.

Ridgely said, "Here we are, on the cusp of a meeting with state highway officials to tell them that the county's No. 1 road project is the Hampstead bypass."

The project has cleared the engineering and design stage, and is entering the land-acquisition phase.

"This is the No. 1 priority for Carroll County. The county owns land here in Hampstead [for an industrial park] which will never be developed without the construction of that bypass," Ridgely said.

In Finksburg, "There's a long, long history on this, and people in Finksburg have spoken to Commissioner Dell many times. There's a commitment from the State Highway Administration that state money will not be spent" on an extension, he said.

"As far as the state is concerned, we do not have any plans to extend 795," said Rose Muhlhausen, spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration.

The only proposal for the interstate in the next 20 years is to widen the existing roadway in Baltimore County -- and no money has been allotted for that, she said.

"Perhaps [Dell's proposal is] politically expedient," Ridgely said. "Dell is looking at ways to eliminate both the Westminster and Hampstead bypasses."

Dell's move could mean several hundred votes for him from landowner opponents of the Westminster bypass, the town managers said.

"One renegade commissioner is out to destroy the stuff we're about to do," Ridgely said. "Donald Dell is pro-development. He's a big believer in farmers being able to capitalize on their properties."

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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