Legislators seek to revive bypass plan

Highway officials want commissioners' support

`It's going to be quite a challenge'

Funding for Route 140 proposal seen as problem

October 28, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Carroll legislators delivered a pitch yesterday for reviving plans for a Westminster bypass, but state highway officials said they would not move forward unless they hear clearer support from the county commissioners.

The commissioners agreed that Westminster could use a bypass and said county officials would investigate the possibilities for reviving the plan. But neither they nor state officials seemed optimistic that the proposed road, which was part of state plans for 40 years until being deleted in 1999, could be resurrected easily.

"It would be tough for this board of commissioners to go back and put that line on a map," said Steve Horn, the county planning director. State officials said the commissioners would have to show renewed support for the bypass before it could be restored to state plans. But even then, the project's estimated $250 million to $350 million cost would be a major impediment, said state highway officials, who added that they don't have enough money to consider any new projects.

"Even with additional revenues in place, it's going to be quite a challenge from a funding standpoint," said State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen.

The discussion involving state highway officials followed an earlier meeting at which legislators signed off on the commissioners' list of road priorities for the county, which did not include a Westminster Route 140 bypass.

Delegation members said they feel the county is owed money after receiving scant highway funding from former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"We're still hammering away at what Carroll County hasn't gotten over the years," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines, perhaps the staunchest advocate for reviving the bypass. "And the money is out there."

Haines and fellow members of the all-Republican delegation have said that with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in office, Carroll has its best chance in years to get more road money. And, the Westminster bypass is only one project on a crowded wish list.

Carroll leaders have long called a Route 30 bypass around Hampstead the county's top road priority. The commissioners also said yesterday that they want the state to move forward on improvements to Route 26 in Eldersburg, to consider widening Route 32 between Eldersburg and the Howard County line, and to consider a Route 30 bypass around Manchester. Delegation members said they support those projects.

But if the state were to resuscitate plans for a Westminster bypass, other projects would take a back seat, Pedersen said. County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she was not ready to let that happen.

That led her colleague, Dean L. Minnich, to say the state might be able to relieve congestion on Route 140 without building a full bypass.

"Maybe if we get past thinking only of the full-blown bypass option there might be a solution that would take us through the next 20 or 30 years," he said.

County planners have already begun considering ways to relieve traffic by building smaller roads and road extensions along land that was purchased for the old bypass.

State officials are also considering options for improvements to the existing Route 140. Under one plan, they would add turn lanes and sidewalks, and eliminate some business entrances onto the road. Under two other plans, the state would depress one or both sides of the road to create a though-highway with elevated intersections.

Despite the cloud of possible solutions floating around, state and county leaders agree on the basic problem - Route 140 won't be able to handle a projected 30 percent to 60 percent increase in traffic over the next 20 years.

For decades, the bypass was supposed to be the answer to that looming problem. But state officials eliminated the proposed road, which would have run north of the city, from their plans in 1999, saying it conflicted with Glendening's Smart Growth agenda.

But Westminster leaders and county business owners never gave up on the bypass, arguing that it would push commuter traffic away from the county's main business drag and would make it more appealing to shoppers. Earlier this year, Haines began calling for the bypass project to be revived.

"We certainly have to look ahead, because if we don't, I don't know what's going to happen to the county and the city," he said yesterday. "I don't think we can solve the problem by continuing to improve and expand 140."

Though many in attendance at yesterday's meeting agreed, the discussion broke without a clear solution.

Horn said he would take an inventory of the land the county owns along the once-planned bypass route, so state officials would at least know where they would be starting should they revive the Westminster bypass.

County officials, meanwhile, said they're ready to present their transportation priorities - without the Westminster bypass - when state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan visits the county next month.

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