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Route 32 plan feasible, state reports But $80 million cost for 6 1/2 -mile stretch likely to delay work; 'Critical' to fiscal health; Carroll sees boon for economy in project, relief for traffic


State officials say widening the 6 1/2 -mile stretch of Route 32 from Interstate 70 to Route 26 to four lanes is possible but, at a projected cost of $80 million, improbable.

Carroll County envisions a widened Route 32 as its access to interstates, as a boon to economic development in South Carroll and as the cheapest way to ease traffic congestion in its fastest-growing area.

"From my perspective, this project is a critical component to the fiscal health of Carroll County," said Steven D. Powell, county budget director.

The State Highway Administration released details yesterday of a $35,000 feasibility study for the 6.5 miles of highway.

The study could "knock several months off project planning," which often precedes highway construction by seven years, said Neil J. Pedersen, director of the office of planning for the state Department of Transportation.

"The good news is we have enough confidence to say this is feasible from an engineering standpoint," he said.

Planning is expected to begin "sometime in the latter part of the next decade," Pedersen said. But the potential for economic development could shorten the timetable.

"The governor has made it clear that economic development is an important consideration in terms of funding," Pedersen said.

The state is expected to make a 131-acre property, along the highway at Springfield Hospital Center, available soon to local government or to private investors.

If Carroll is to market the site aggressively, it must be able to guarantee prospective buyers better access to transportation, said Philip Rovang, county director of planning.

Cost estimates for improving the section of Route 32 could top $80 million, Pedersen said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he was encouraged by the study, but discouraged that the construction was scheduled so far into the future.

"Any potential here for a toll road?" he asked, hoping to speed the process.

Tolls are reserved for interstates with limited access. Many private driveways enter Route 32. The proposal calls for parallel service roads to accommodate those residences.

"This is the best proposal and the best plan to move forward," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines. "It will certainly help solve economic development problems and serve the growth area."

Howard County officials also support improvements to Route 32, Haines said. "They prefer this option to doing anything more on Route 97."

The state opened an improved 2.4-mile leg of the highway from Clarksville in Howard County south to Interstate 95 at a cost of $55 million in March. Improvements from Clarksville north to I-70 are in the planning stages.

About 17,000 vehicles a day travel on Route 32 between I-70 and Route 26. If no improvements take place, planners predict a failed highway within 25 years.

But Carroll has made building bypasses -- for Hampstead, Manchester and Westminster -- its road priorities. Route 32 would have to fall in line behind those projects, which could total more than $400 million.

Before the state invests any money in improvements to Route 32, officials want assurances of the county's support. "We only pursue projects consistent with local plans," Pedersen said.

The county is revising its master plan and hopes to have a draft on the transportation element prepared by next fall.

"The commissioners have already made Route 32 a priority," said Steve Horn, bureau chief of the county department of planning. "It will be on the comprehensive plan, and I see adoption within a year."

Since the state already owns most of the right of way along the route, land acquisition costs are about half what they would be for the bypass projects. The impact to wetlands also would not be as severe for Route 32 as the bypass proposals, said Pedersen.

The county will submit the feasibility study to its Planning and Zoning Commission for review as soon as possible.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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