Carroll County presses state on road projects Frustrated residents say bypasses urgently needed at three towns

September 24, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Maryland Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead and his subordinates took it on the chin from local officials and county residents yesterday -- not for what they've done, but for what they haven't done to improve roads in Carroll County.

County officials have sought bypasses around Hampstead, Manchester and Westminster for years but have only engineering designs and alignment drawings to show for their efforts.

They were not hesitant yesterday to share their frustration with Winstead and other state officials at the secretary's annual meeting with Carroll officials to discuss county projects.

The fireworks began when state Sen. Larry E. Haines of Westminster asked State Highway Administrator Parker F. Williams for clarification about roadwork on Baltimore Boulevard (Route 140) between Leidy Road and Route 27.

Williams said the $4 million worth of improvements is the first phase of a three-phase project that will include the widening of the bridge over Route 27 to accommodate another lane of traffic.

Haines balked upon hearing that the cost of phases two and three would be a total of $40 million to $50 million.

"Did I hear you correctly?" he asked Williams.

"Yes. Bridge widenings are very expensive," Williams said.

"Sounds like pretty foolish planning to me," Haines said.

The senator said the money could be better spent on a Westminster bypass -- something that state and county officials have been talking about for 30 years.

"We need to put money into a Westminster bypass, not improvements to [Route] 140," Haines said. "Something has to be done."

Haines complained that the state spent $77 million on Prince George's County roads leading to the new home of the Washington Redskins football team.

Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale of Westminster also got into the act.

"How long did [Price George's] have to wait before they got the $77 million?" she asked. Carroll has been waiting decades for the Westminster bypass and a Hampstead bypass.

"How did they get away with it in Prince George's?" she asked.

County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, a former mayor of Westminster, said that without a bypass, the volume of traffic through Westminster on Route 140 would grow from the current 45,000 vehicles a day to more than 70,000 in about 15 years.

"It's a very sobering thought that we will have more traffic [in Westminster] than passes through Mount Airy" on Interstate 70, Brown said.

He said the state needs to act quickly to officially designate the alignment for the Westminster bypass to alert property owners and preserve rights of ways.

"We want to protect the common good and make sure there is no development in the path of the bypass, but we want to respect property rights," Brown said. "The lack of an official designation as a bypass puts us in a difficult position."

James E. Harris, a property owner who has been pressing the issue privately with the commissioners, castigated Winstead and the county's elected officials for what he said was government's prolonged failure to act.

"For 13 years, I've waited" to learn whether a proposed bypass would cut through his property, Harris said.

"I've been held hostage by government. I'm very frustrated, very angry with this whole project. Either fund it or take the project off the map."

If state and county officials want to help him and his neighbors, Harris said, "then come up with the money to buy us out. How much more are we going to have to wait?"

Another property owner said he spent $10,000 preparing to carve two lots from his 130-acre farm -- which the law ordinarily allows -- but could not because "the road was not well-defined" on county maps. "I can't put a lot anywhere on my property," he said.

Williams said the highway administration has chosen a path for the proposed bypass but can't make it official until "some environmental issues" can be worked out with the federal government.

Williams said he hopes that can be accomplished by spring.

Once that happens, the bypass would still be a long way off, he said. No money is available for the "quarter-billion-dollar project" in the state's six-year construction budget, he said, and it still has to "pass muster with Smart Growth," a state program designed to protect rural areas.

A proposed Manchester bypass must also be approved by the state Office of Planning before it could receive state funding, Williams said.

The bypass is needed, County Commissioner Donald I. Dell told Winstead, because traffic from Pennsylvania is using Main Street in Manchester as the most direct route to the Baltimore Beltway. Unless diverted, the increasing traffic could harm the historical character of Manchester, he said.

The proposed $25 million Hampstead bypass, meanwhile, is exempt from Smart Growth restrictions. The engineering is about 75 percent complete, Williams said, and the state is "making very important progress with right-of-way donations."

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