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Building Consensus before the Road


State Highway Administration officials have said, in so many words, that if there is to be a Westminster Bypass, it will be built decades from now.

Their more immediate concern is developing a feasible and affordable plan to improve traffic flow on the portion of Route 140 that passes through the Carroll County seat. The SHA's subtle messages may reduce the contentious fighting over the bypass, but it won't resolve it.

Bypass opponents take little comfort in the SHA's approach. Carroll Life, the most vocal and visible group opposing the bypass, would like to see Route 140 transformed into a limited access highway that would make construction of the bypass (and the taking of some members' property) unnecessary. Its proposals to close off certain intersections, create bridges and underpasses and develop through lanes are all intended to accelerate traffic on Route 140's existing roadbed.

Some of its proposals are too expensive -- estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars -- and unworkable because of the impact on existing businesses. However, some of Carroll Life's suggestions have been constructive and refined some thinking about the much-needed Route 140 improvements.

Proponents of the bypass are not happy, either. They want state officials to choose a path, begin engineering studies and proceed as quickly as possible. Business owners along Route 140 don't want to trade their highway access or parking spaces for less congestion on the road. Others want the bypass built because it will open the area north of Westminster to development.

Neither side will get all that it wants. From the engineering and traffic studies, it is clear that improvements to Route 140 are needed. With the general shortage of highway funds and greater needs elsewhere in Maryland, the SHA is looking for inexpensive solutions to ease congestion along Route 140.

SHA officials also want to select a bypass route to keep their options open. However, their more immediate desire is to develop a community consensus on the extent of the Route 140 improvements. The sooner there is agreement, the sooner SHA can begin to design the changes that will keep open Westminster's commercial thoroughfare.

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