State highway officials recommended yesterday that improvements should be made to Route 140 to improve safety and alleviate congestion before a Westminster bypass is constructed.
According to a preliminary plan presented to the County Commissioners yesterday, upgrades to Route 140 would not affect any local businesses or change the existing traffic signals.
State highway officials said the improvements could begin within five or six years, while a bypass is at least 15 or 20 years in the future.
"There may well be a need for a bypass, but the cost is so high that to completely ignore the existing Route 140 would be a mistake," said State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff. "The question is, how can we realistically upgrade the road and not destroy the area in order to save it?"
Mr. Kassoff stressed that the state will push for construction of a Westminster bypass if county officials continue to support the project. But he added that there is "fierce competition" for state money among other regional highway projects.
"As long as Carroll County is a full partner, we're prepared to go forward to get approval for the bypass," Mr. Kassoff told the commissioners.
Yesterday, SHA officials recommended a modified plan for the northern route of the Westminster bypass rather than the original master plan alignment, which encroached on wetlands. Officials estimated the cost at $225 million.
The bypass would merge with Route 140 near Reese Road and include interchanges at Routes 27 and 97. It would tie into Route 140 again just west of Hughes Shop Road.
SHA officials said a proposed alignment for a southern route of the Westminster bypass should be rejected because it would not serve the planned business development near the airport.
Mr. Kassoff said that the state is proceeding with plans for Hampstead and Manchester bypasses, although progress on the projects has been stalled by environmental issues and community opposition.
Of the three proposed Carroll bypasses, the Hampstead bypass is the top priority because it is further along in planning, Mr. Kassoff said. The estimated cost of that project is $18 million.
SHA planners are gathering environmental and mapping information for the Manchester bypass and plan to hold public hearings on the project in another year.
Construction money for the two projects has not been approved.
Transportation officials spent most of yesterday's meeting detailing plans to upgrade the existing Route 140. For the past two months, state highway planners have been working with a group of Carroll citizens, business owners and elected officials to draft an alternate plan for improvements to Route 140.
The local business community has opposed other alternate plans to upgrade the existing road that might mean up to 16 businesses would lose their existing sites and up to 25 would lose parking spaces. Those plans were similar to one proposed by Carroll Life, a citizens group opposed to any Westminster bypass.
The alternate plan proposed yesterday would be completed in three phases at a cost of $13 million, said Gene R. Straub, an SHA district engineer.
The first phase calls for three through lanes and a right turn lane in each direction between Sullivan Road and Route 97 South.
Mr. Straub said local businesses would not be affected because all road widening would take place in the median strip, and the plan does not require the purchase of additional right-of-way space.
The second phase would improve the intersection of 97 South and Route 140 by adding left turn lanes. The project's third phase is a widening of the bridges at Routes 140 and 27 and Routes 140 and 97 north.