Options studied for city corridor

Route 140 ideas include elevated intersections

Some want a bypass instead

Commissioners skeptical of funding for upgrades

October 12, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Under one plan, the 2.5-mile stretch of Route 140 that runs through Westminster would look like something transplanted from commuter-choked Atlanta, a through-highway burrowing under elevated intersections that lead to strip malls and chain restaurants.

Under another, it would look exactly as it does today, a suburban highway with stop lights, where commuter traffic mingles, sometimes awkwardly, with local drivers running their daily errands.

Both options are among the four that state highway officials say they're considering - as part of a $1 million study - for Carroll County's main business corridor.

County and state leaders say the corridor won't be able to handle a projected 30 percent to 60 percent increase in traffic over the next 20 years.

"We anticipate that the increased traffic will lead to a real deterioration of service on 140," said county Planning Director Steven C. Horn, who has worked with state officials on plans for the road.

The county commissioners agree that Route 140 could use an upgrade but say they're skeptical about the state's more elaborate plans and about the legislature's willingness to pay for major improvements to the road.

They've been down this path before - a proposed Westminster bypass remained on state and county planning books for almost 40 years without an inch of ground ever being broken.

"The only thing they're going to do is tear up 140 every few years and then, when they're finished, they'll still be behind," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich.

Horn added, "You tend to develop a bit of cynicism about the state process."

To add another layer of complication, many business leaders and officials, including state Sen. Larry E. Haines and Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff, say they want the state to revive plans for a bypass around the city.

"By channeling commuters over to the bypass, you would be opening up the existing highway to people who do want access to businesses and making it easier for them," said Bonnie Grady, president of the county Chamber of Commerce.

State officials eliminated the proposed bypass, which would have run north of the city, from their plans in 1999, saying it conflicted with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth agenda. But bypass advocates say that with a Republican governor in office the county has its best chance in years to push for road projects.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan has shown more willingness than his predecessors to discuss specific projects in the county, advocates say. He has made several suggestions, including the possibility of adding tolls, for pushing forward the county's No. 1 road priority, a Route 30 bypass around Hampstead.

After a recent visit to Carroll County, Flanagan said he still needed to develop a clearer sense of what the county wants for Route 140 - a bypass or improvements to the existing road - before making any decisive moves.

Flanagan is scheduled to visit Carroll again next month. Horn recommended that the commissioners tell him exactly what they want for the road at that time.

The road's future has been an on-again, off-again issue in the county for decades. The most recent flurry of discussion began in January 1999, when Glendening nixed plans for a bypass. That decision sent state road planners searching for ways to help the existing road handle increased traffic.

The state formed a task force of county residents and officials to develop options, and that panel delivered its report in 2000.

This year, state officials presented information on six possible plans to a crowd of about 90 people in Westminster. After hearing input at that meeting, they narrowed the list from six to four.

Under Option One, the state would make no major improvements and spend little more than standard maintenance money on the road.

Under Option Two, projected to cost between $18 million and $23 million, the state would build several new turn lanes, eliminate some business entrances onto the road and add sidewalks for pedestrians. Grady said the chamber considers this option the least objectionable of the improvement plans.

Option Three, projected to cost almost $200 million, would be the most radical. The state would lower the existing highway and turn it into a through-road that would run under elevated intersections at Englar Road, Center Street and Malcolm Drive.

Under Option Four, projected to cost about $140 million, the state would keep westbound Route 140 much the same as it is now but would lower the eastbound side, which statistics show is more heavily traveled, and run it under the same three intersections.

Grady said the chamber vehemently opposes the last two options, which would give Westminster a more urban character.

"It would change the quality of life in Carroll County," she said. "It would be too dramatic, too drastic."

After hearing Horn's presentation Thursday, the commissioners agreed. They said the drawings of the elevated intersections reminded them of the Washington suburbs.

Westminster officials also questioned the need for such radical changes, though they have not endorsed a particular option.

"Some of those would have a real negative impact on businesses located along the edge of the road," said Thomas Beyard, director of public works and planning for Westminster.

Beyard said Westminster leaders generally favor a combination of improvements to the highway with a revival of the bypass concept, which they've never removed from city plans.

State officials say they will hold public hearings on the proposed alternatives in spring and will choose one in 2005.

They would then seek federal approval for the design they pick. The legislature has not agreed to pay for the project.

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