State outlines possibilities for traffic relief on Route 140

THE BALTIMORE SUN

State Highway Administration officials outlined a range of possibilities last night for Route 140 - Carroll County's congested major artery through the Westminster area - from doing nothing to creating a system of interchanges and service roads that would cost up to $230 million and displace about 30 homes and businesses.

The ideas were presented at a meeting of a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the county commissioners to recommend the best plan for the 2 1/2 -mile stretch along the outskirts of the city from Sullivan Road to Market Street, where new stores recently have opened.

The recommendation probably will be made this spring, said the county's planning director, Steven C. Horn, who is working with the panel.

The 13-member committee, headed by Thomas K. Ferguson, a Westminster councilman, and C. Scott Stone of the county school board, was organized last month to determine whether a Route 140 bypass is justified and to consider alternatives. It includes business owners and Chamber of Commerce representatives, as well as officials from the city, state and county.

Raymond L. Moravec, an SHA consultant and project manager for URS Corp. of Hunt Valley, outlined projects that might be possible in response to the group's request last month.

His presentation focused on three critical intersections: Malcolm Drive, Center Street and Englar Road. Some alternatives would run Route 140 underneath one or more of these roads, or build service roads to area stores and malls and close access points.

"It could be mix and match," Moravec said. Some alternatives would not allow U-turns, he said, "and I know this is an issue." Some designs have not been used in Maryland and would require state approval.

The least-expensive of four alternatives would cost $65 million to $75 million for land acquisition and construction, he said, and the most expensive up to $230 million, taking about 13 acres, including 29 businesses.

As part of its charge outlined in November, the committee was to recommend whether a bypass would be the best solution. The state has said a bypass would cost more than some of the improvements being considered, and there are practical questions of whether a bypass would be funded at all - and if so, when.

C. Rogers Jorss Jr., senior traffic engineer in SHA's Travel Forecasting Section, said the 51,000 vehicles per day recorded in 2001 at the highest-volume intersection is expected to climb to 78,300 by 2025.

Environmental studies for a Westminster bypass were under way when the project was killed in 1999 as contrary to Smart Growth policies implemented in October 1997 by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The $220 million cost of the bypass in the 1990s "has at least doubled" to between $400 million and $500 million, said Mary Deitz, a committee member and SHA regional planner.

The committee also was asked to consider whether a toll road would be feasible, or whether commuters avoiding tolls would result in congestion on alternate routes.

A third question concerns the impact of long-term roadwork upon local businesses, whose owners have said they could be disrupted or displaced by construction and redirection of traffic away from the corridor.

The stretch of Route 140 under study was itself built as a bypass during the 1950s to take traffic away from downtown Westminster.

The panel was asked to consider the number of out-of-town commuters versus local traffic, and effects upon the local economy.

"About 62 percent of the trips are local trips ... in the general area of Westminster," Jorss said.

Another question for the committee is whether there should be any contribution by Westminster for acquiring property, and whether the county should consider a special tax district or other financing mechanism. It also is to weigh the importance of the project against the likelihood of delaying other needed road work.

The next committee meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 5 p.m. Jan. 24 at the County Office Building.

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