Commissioner urges Westminster Bypass study

Minnich suggests panel conduct in-depth review of stalled plan

Carroll County

October 22, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

While Carroll County pushes the Hampstead Bypass, improvements to Routes 26 and 32 in Eldersburg and a redesign of the Route 140 corridor in Westminster with the State Highway Administration, one commissioner wants to revive discussion of a bypass for the county seat.

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said yesterday that he would like a committee appointed to study the feasibility of a Westminster Bypass, a long-envisioned road that the administration of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening scrapped more than five years ago, saying it would promote sprawl. The bypass was designed, and much of the land for it had been set aside.

"The committee would have a charge to study specific questions with a lot more depth than an ugly rendering," Minnich said. "The impact on business, both downtown and on 140, would have to be part of the debate. We need to reopen this."

The bypass project would be a separate road issue that would not be connected to any funding for Route 140 improvements, Minnich said.

"We still need 140 enhancements, and we don't want state money diverted from this project," Minnich said.

A feasibility study will not affect the list of road priorities the county sends annually to the state, said Steven Horn, county director of planning.

"We will need 140 improvements irrespective of a bypass," Horn said. "Those improvements are the prudent thing to do."

State transportation officials have scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Henry C. Evans Armory, 350 Hahn Road, Westminster, to discuss several proposed improvements along Route 140 from Market Street to Sullivan Road. Maps detailing possible alternatives, developed during a yearlong study, will be available.

Robert L. Flanagan, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, will also visit Carroll County on Nov. 3 to review transportation issues. The $70 million Hampstead Bypass, to which the state has committed construction funds, remains at the top of Carroll's list, followed by engineering of Route 26 corridor improvements.

At a meeting with state officials this month, Horn offered $4 million from the county to help spur the Eldersburg highway projects. About $2.5 million of the county contribution would go to the design and engineering of the Route 26 corridor, from Route 32 east to Carroll Highlands, a 2.5-mile stretch that serves as Eldersburg's main street. The design phase of what could be a $25 million effort to build service roads, a median, sidewalks and landscaping will cost about $3.5 million.

"We are asking the state to fund the balance of the design," Horn said. "If SHA agrees, the project can continue."

The county would switch its focus and finances from local roads projects in South Carroll to planning and engineering for the Route 26 and Route 32 corridors and the intersection of the two highways. Joint county and state funding could move those projects along, Horn said.

"The study would develop cost estimates for additional lanes and for a signal, which is warranted at MacBeth Way now, and then take a comprehensive look at Routes 26 and 32," Horn said.

The county would use any of its remaining money to help the state pay for land acquisition, planning and the signal. The commissioners authorized a letter to SHA stating their interest and willingness to contribute to the projects, such as improvements to the Route 32 and 26 intersection and road work along Route 32 from the intersection to MacBeth Way.

Once the state begins building the Hampstead Bypass next year, the county has to have other projects ready for construction, if it is to get in line for state funding, Horn said.

Sharing engineering costs with the state would make Carroll more likely to secure funding. The commissioners also reviewed a draft of long-range plans from the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, which will help determine future road and mass transit needs throughout the metropolitan area. The draft includes $6.7 billion in projects through 2030.

"It is a blueprint for major transportation investments, but it is constrained by funding and has to meet many air-quality and environmental standards," said Jeanne Joiner, project coordinator in Carroll's Department of Planning.

Residents will have an opportunity to review the plan at 7 p.m. Monday in Room 003 of the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

"We are on the radar for roads projects," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

The county is included in several projects, including highways, greenways and pedestrian projects, but is "noticeably absent from sections on mass transit," said Steven Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff.

Gouge added, "There is no way mass transit is coming to Carroll County, when we don't want it and other counties are begging for it."

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