The state Department of Transportation's efforts to move forward with a $200 million widening of a 9-mile stretch of Route 32 in Howard County is cause for optimism in Carroll County, the commissioners said yesterday.
Carroll officials said they are hoping the state won't stop at the Howard County line.
"We would like them to keep building the road north into Carroll County," said Steven Horn, county director of planning.
The heavily traveled Route 32 connects Carroll County to I-95 and Annapolis. It has been widened throughout much of Howard County, but it becomes a two-lane road from Route 108 in western Howard north through Carroll County.
The commissioners have made planning for the widening of Route 32 from Interstate 70 north to Route 26 in Eldersburg their main transportation priority. The commissioners have long considered Route 32 the gateway to economic development, an attraction that could lure industry to South Carroll.
With the state's commitment to build the $70 million Hampstead bypass as soon as the fall next year, the county can focus on the Route 32 project for South Carroll, its most populous and fastest-growing area and the one with the easiest access to an interstate highway.
Other road projects, including a proposal to resurrect the Westminster bypass, will have to take a secondary role in the county's transportation plans.
"We have to move on Route 32," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "It could mean jobs. We lost jobs waiting so long for the Hampstead bypass to be built. We have to look at the employment picture."
The 4.5-mile Hampstead bypass has been 40 years in the planning, decades during which the town's Main Street has become clogged with commuter traffic.
The county and Sykesville have plans to develop a 96-acre property in the town and along Route 32 into a business and academic campus known as the Warfield Complex. The parcel, about five miles north of Interstate 70, could bring as many as 1,000 good jobs to the area.
The county needs to focus on economic development, said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. Carroll's industrial tax rate is about 12 percent, the lowest percentage in the metropolitan area, officials said.
"Brokers have told us that the easier it is to get to Eldersburg, the more attractive it will be to industry," Minnich said. "We have to get that road opened up."
But Westminster and the county Chamber of Commerce have been urging officials to fund improvements to the Route 140 corridor through the county seat and to reconsider the Westminster bypass.
Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening scrapped the bypass five years ago saying it would promote sprawl, and the county removed the project from its transportation plan. The state has made numerous improvements to Route 140 in recent years.
"Route 32 has to be our planning priority," Horn said. "There is a more immediate need for it than Route 140 in Westminster, especially in light of the improvements made to that highway. The lack of improvements on Route 32 puts a bigger priority on that corridor."
While the state has acquired much of the right-of-way needed to widen Route 32, very little land has been set aside for the Westminster bypass, said Horn. About 250 properties in and around Westminster could be affected by the bypass proposal.
"The state is currently unable to fund the necessary activities required to revisit the Westminster bypass," he said. "There would be a lot of land we would need to reserve. It is a risky proposition to purchase property for a road that is not going to be built for 30 years."