Carroll commissioners say no to plan for Westminster bypass

A solution is needed, they say, but funding remains elusive


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September 02, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A 40-year-old transportation plan to build a bypass around Westminster, discarded by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening seven years ago as part of his Smart Growth anti-sprawl campaign, was scrapped again yesterday - this time by the Carroll County commissioners.

Officials said the county has no money to buy land for the road and cannot build it without financial support from the state. The commissioners will instead back the state's efforts to improve Route 140, the main artery through the county seat. They also will work with the city on improvements to connector roads so local traffic can circumvent the highway.

"The state is ready, willing and able to take a long-range look at the needs of Route 140 and some responsibility for funding," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "It is up to us to make a decision to follow the state's lead.

"We are not just looking for a silver bullet but a real vision, a transportation plan that incorporates 140 and state, county and municipal roads," he said.

The commissioners rejected a recommendation to build a $500 million bypass, from a blue-ribbon panel they appointed this year, primarily at the urging of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.

"As consumers, we have painted ourselves into a corner," said Wayne Barnes, chamber spokesman. "All we have is 140, and we are narrowing everything into that one road."

The panel called the bypass vital to Westminster commerce and quality of life. Daily traffic along Route 140 through Westminster is now at 50,000 vehicles, and the State Highway Administration projects 70,000 vehicles within 20 years.

The panel proposed an eight-mile road in a report that includes a map and details of a four-lane, divided highway that would run north of Route 140 from Leidy Road to Hughes Shop Road in Westminster.

"The panel didn't show us anything that we had missed other than, `I want it,' " Minnich said. "No one answered the question of where the money would come from. There is a limit to what is doable."

Carroll owns less than 50 acres along the proposed route and would have to spend at least $50 million to purchase about 200 acres, the bulk of the land needed to build the road, officials said.

"People forget the huge costs for land and construction," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

Former boards of commissioners failed as long as four decades ago to set aside land for the bypass, said Commissioner Perry L. Jones. If the road is redrawn on county maps now, it will hurt home values along the route, he said.

The panel's proposal would have bisected Jim Harris' 100-acre farm in Westminster, making it difficult for him to sell or develop the property, he says.

Harris sued the county several years ago and successfully forced removal of the bypass designation from the farm that he could neither develop nor sell then because of its unsettled future. When he learned of the new proposal, he sued again.

"My suit is moot now," said Harris, who plans to sell the property. "There is no money for this road, and there never will be."

Rather than a costly road, Jones said, the county should concentrate on creating jobs in Carroll, where nearly 60 percent of the work force commutes to other areas.

"Why should we build a bypass with county money to get people in and out of Pennsylvania?" Jones asked

Gouge said she was willing to put the issue to referendum in the 2006 statewide election, as long as voters were aware that "there is no way, at the present tax rate, we can even buy the land for this project."

Her two colleagues rejected the referendum idea.

"You would be asking people to vote on an emotional, politicized issue that is not a viable option," Minnich said.

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