Construction of the $70 million Hampstead bypass, a 4 1/2 -mile-long road that has been nearly 40 years in the planning, will begin in the fall of next year, state transportation officials said yesterday.
"We are going to fund it," Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said to a round of applause and cheers in a meeting with the county delegation and town officials. "This is a great day for Hampstead. The bypass is on its way."
Traffic on Route 30, a state highway that becomes Main Street in Hampstead, made Flanagan a bit late for the meeting. Nearly 20,000 vehicles a day, many of them 18-wheelers or commuters from southern Pennsylvania, travel through the town on the highway.
Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican legislative delegation, said the project has moved along at a snail's pace for 40 years.
"This will be the first major road groundbreaking since [Gov. Theodore] McKeldin cut the ribbon for Route 140 on July 1, 1954," he said. "`Funded' - I haven't heard that word in a long time."
State, county and town officials have all agreed the bypass would relieve traffic in the northern Carroll County town. But funding did not become available until now.
"You all made a wonderful case for the need, and when I was driving here today, I remembered those reasons," Flanagan said. "There is nothing like sitting in congestion to sharpen the senses. That traffic is standard fare for the people of Hampstead."
Hampstead Mayor Haven Shoemaker said he was cautiously optimistic when the state scheduled yesterday's meeting and "ecstatic" when he heard Flanagan's announcement.
"This is one of the most significant days in the history of this town," Shoemaker said.
County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, whose political career began on the Hampstead council more than 25 years ago, called the announcement "absolutely unbelievable, but it's great."
"It's been a long process," Gouge said. "When I was on the council and mayor [of Hampstead], they told me the road would be done by 1990. Here it is 14 years later. That's great news for everyone. Truly great news."
The total construction will involve 7.2 miles because of work on intersecting roadways, particularly Wolf Hill Drive, Brodbeck and Houcksville roads and Route 482. The project will include three roundabouts - the only accesses to the bypass.
"The bypass will be access-controlled with roundabouts," said State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen. "Where they have been installed, roundabouts have reduced accidents between 70 and 90 percent."
Bypass construction will also include six bridges over wetlands, streams and existing roads. The road cost $6 million to engineer and the state has spent $20 million to acquire property along the route. The project will go out to bid in about a year. About four months after that, construction, estimated to cost $48 million, will begin. Completion will take about three years, state officials said.
The project was nearly derailed six years ago, when planners discovered endangered bog turtles along the planned route. After a lengthy environmental assessment, a realignment of the proposed route and the town's promise to maintain the turtle habitat, the federal government determined the bypass would not harm the turtles and approved the project.
"We thank the town for its long-term commitment to maintaining the turtle habitat," Pedersen said. "That was the last stumbling block."
The state will schedule meetings in several communities along the bypass route to gather comment about the possible need for noise walls.
Concerns for highway safety, easing congestion and creating a business-friendly climate led Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to approve the bypass project, Flanagan said.
"Most of my constituents want this bypass," said Del. Carmen Amedori, a Westminster Republican. "Route 30 is a long parade of vehicles, regardless of the time of day."
Highway officials passed out maps detailing the bypass, which will run parallel to Route 30 on a route west of the town of nearly 6,000 residents. One of the original maps, which puts the population at 2,608, suggests how much the town has grown and how long it has been working for the bypass, said Councilman and former Mayor Christopher M. Nevin.
Haines said he is not finished pushing for roads in Carroll. When the Hampstead bypass is complete, Manchester, a town to its north, also will need a bypass, Haines said. Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening axed that project six years ago, saying it would promote sprawl.
"We will continue to study the Manchester issue, and we will be looking at it seriously," said Pedersen.