Citing an expected surge in traffic in coming years, a blue-ribbon panel has recommended the revival of a proposed bypass around Westminster, a $500 million project scrapped seven years ago by Gov. Parris N. Glendening as part of his Smart Growth anti-sprawl campaign.
The panel, appointed by the Carroll County Commission, unveiled the plan for an 8-mile road north of Route 140 yesterday in an eight-page report that includes a map and details of a four-lane divided highway that would run from Leidy Road to Hughes Shop Road in the county seat.
The panel based the need for a bypass on traffic volume, now at 50,000 vehicles a day and projected to reach more than 70,000 within 20 years, according to the State Highway Administration.
Making the bypass a county transportation priority would draw state attention to the project that Glendening axed seven years ago, along with the Manchester Bypass, saying that both ran counter to his Smart Growth initiative.
Up to that time, both bypasses had been part of the county plan for decades. Engineers designed a possible Westminster route about 15 years ago. The panel made few changes to that original design.
"If it was a good idea for all these years and some of the work done is still usable, then it is a good idea now," said Bonnie Grady, director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and panel member. "To delay only compounds the error made by our former governor."
Each county gives state highway planners an annual priority list. Carroll has focused much of its attention in recent years on the Hampstead Bypass and improvements to Routes 32 and 26 in South Carroll.
With both of these projects set for construction within a year, the Westminster Bypass should take its place on the county's list, panel members said. But nothing can happen until the commissioners decide to rework their highway priorities.
"There was never any question about the need for a bypass," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "But I am looking for new data in this report."
The panel also asked the commissioners to undertake a comprehensive cost-benefits analysis of the impact that the proposed bypass would have on local businesses.
"We are unanimous justifying this based on need," said Thomas Ferguson, Westminster's mayor and co-chairman of the panel. "Put it back on the county planning map and protect the rights-of-way. That is our immediate concern."
Since the project was removed from the county's master plan, it is no longer on the state's radar.
"We build projects based on county priority lists," said David Buck, State Highway Administration spokesman. "Right now, the ball is in Carroll County's court. It is noteworthy that the panel came back with the recommendation. But until the county puts it back on the master plan, this bypass doesn't exist as far as we are concerned."
The commissioners asked for time to review the report before making any decision.
"We need this bypass regardless of any future improvements to the Route 140 corridor," said C. Scott Stone, the panel's co-chairman and a member of the county Board of Education.
Carroll owns less than 50 acres along the proposed route and would have to spend about $50 million to purchase about 200 acres, the bulk of the land needed to build the road, officials said.
"This looks good on paper, but how in the world would we ever come up with the money?" Commissioner Perry L. Jones said.
Although the commissioners did not take public comment, Westminster resident Jim Harris took notes during the session. The proposed bypass would bisect Harris' 100-acre farm, making it difficult for him to sell or develop the property.
Harris sued the county several years ago and successfully forced the removal of the bypass designation from the farm that he could neither develop nor sell because of its unsettled future.
After hearing the recommendations yesterday, Harris said, "I guess I will be going from here to the courthouse. They are not going to do the same thing to me again."