Road projects a top priority for county

Revamp of Route 140, traffic jams among annual meeting topics

September 16, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Completing designs for main stretches of Route 32 and Route 26 in South Carroll, securing funds for the reconstruction of Route 140 in Westminster and addressing congestion on state roads as drivers enter the county are priorities the Carroll County commissioners and its state delegation will discuss with the state transportation secretary in a meeting Wednesday.

With state highway dollars drying up and projects lagging, county officials will need to decide if it is worth putting the jurisdiction's own money up to expedite the process, South Carroll Del. Susan W. Krebs said.

She mentioned slow progress on the Route 26 corridor engineering, to which the county contributed $1 million, and delays on the reconstruction of Route 32 at MacBeth Way/Piney Ridge Parkway, for which the county put up $2.5 million.

"At some point, you need to start seeing some of your investment," Krebs said. "Should we keep putting money in? Is it going to get us anywhere?"

Surrounding counties, including Howard and Frederick, share costs with the State Highway Administration to encourage state funding, Krebs said.

In advance of Wednesday's annual meeting, county officials informally discussed their transportation goals with highway officials for the first time in four years. Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who previously held the post under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, reinstated the practice when Gov. Martin O'Malley tapped him for the office.

The plans for reconstructing Route 140 between Market Street and Sullivan Road are nearly complete, but the state has yet to commit construction funds for the $212 million project, according to county planning director Steven C. Horn.

That hefty price tag includes millions for land acquisition to widen the road, where two "continuous-flow" intersections that involve building an extra lane for left-turning motorists are planned.

Expanding Route 32 to four lanes from Route 26 to the Howard County border is a project that is not scheduled to start until 2020, according to the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board's plan detailing capital projects through 2035. But that corridor will receive increased traffic in the near future from the Base Realignment and Closure transfers of personnel to Maryland, Horn said.

"We can't wait that long," he told the county commissioners. "At times during the day, it's gridlocked."

The Route 32 project, which will cost an estimated $96 million to reconstruct and add second lanes in each direction, remains the county's priority to receive project planning funds, Horn said.

"It's definitely on the radar. It's next in line after the Route 140 corridor [in Westminster]," SHA regional planner Keith Kucharek said.

As plans to improve Route 32 in Howard County have moved forward, a comprehensive plan needs to be developed for the entire state road, Krebs said.

"What's the whole corridor going to look like?" she said. "Then we'll start connecting the pieces. What is the scope of this project and what are the miles that need to be done first?"

Another bottleneck occurs at Route 140 and Route 91 in Finksburg, county officials said. Adding an eastbound left-turn onto Route 91, possibly by building a raised interchange, could resolve some of those issues, Horn said.

"If it's a problem to get through Finksburg, I'm not sure how attractive the rest of the county becomes," Horn said, explaining how the traffic could affect the county's economic development plans.

The State Highway Administration is close to completing 30 percent of the engineering designs for the reconstruction of Route 26 between Route 32 and Liberty Reservoir in Eldersburg.

An additional $3.1 million is required to complete engineering designs on the 2.55-mile project. On top of the $3.1 million the Route 26 corridor project still needs for engineering, at least an additional $33.4 million would be required for construction costs, Horn said.

Even though the county commissioners put up $1 million, there is no guarantee that the state will commit funding to moving the project forward, Kucharek said.

"If the county has any additional money, we'd be glad to use it," Kucharek said of ways to move the project along.

County public works director J. Michael Evans worried that if the Route 26 project is shelved, the designs to replace its continuous left-hand turn lane with a landscaped median and widened pedestrian and bike lanes may need to be redone later.

A Manchester Bypass of Route 30 corresponding to the Hampstead Bypass now under construction and the potential need for a commuter shuttle to the metro station in Owings Mills are other issues that should crop up in Wednesday's meeting, officials said.

Although the nearly $85 million Hampstead Bypass of Route 30 is under way, the state hasn't committed to the related $81.5 million Manchester Bypass. The project remains the county's second project planning priority, while a Taneytown Bypass to relocate Route 140 ranks third.

If the state continues to pass over Manchester, perhaps the county should refocus its efforts on the Taneytown project, Commissioners Dean L. Minnich and Michael D. Zimmer said recently.

"It's more doable," Minnich said of the Taneytown Bypass.

"Plus with Taneytown, we'd get a real quick turnaround on the money in terms of economic development," Zimmer said, referring to the surplus of industrial land in the area.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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