(Enlarge) The Hampstead Bypass was desolate, but ready for action, minutes before opening on Thursday. State and county officials cut the ribbon on the $83 million roadway Aug. 6 (Photo by Phil Grout)
HAMPSTEAD — As of rush hour today, people who drive Route 30 in Hampstead are finding themselves with a new view of town.
“We, the citizens, waited far too long for this day to come,” said state Sen. Larry Haines, (R-Dist. 5) of Westminster as he stood along the Hampstead Bypass on Thursday.
After 40 years of waiting, the bypass officially opened Aug. 6, bringing six miles of pavement and a relief to daily commuters along Route 30.
“The bypass is a quality of life issue, a public safety issue, an economic issue,” said Haines, “and the opening of this project will bring much-needed relief to traffic congestion.”
The bypass winds through open land on the west side of the town, starting just near the county line on its south side and ending in Greenmount.
State and local officials held a ribbon cutting Thursday afternoon to commemorate the completion of the project while State Highway Administration crews worked to finish painting and other work along the bypass.
The overall, four-mile, $83 million bypass project aims to redirect the bulk of the nearly 17,000 cars that travel that segment of the road each day. It is a two-lane divided highway that has a 55 mph speed limit.
The bypass connects Business Route 30 via roundabouts in three locations — near Wolf Hill Drive, at Hampstead-Mexico Road (Route 482) and near Brodbeck Road in Greenmount.
The opening also means access from Wolf Hill Drive to Route 30 will be permanently closed. Drivers in the Wolf Hill neighborhood will access Route 30 using the newly extended Philips Drive, which is connected to the new roundabout.
“This is an epic day in the history of Hampstead,” Hampstead Mayor Haven Shoemaker said.
Despite the bypass opening, Haines said work to alleviate congestion along Hanover Pike is far from finished.
“Another bypass on Route 30 north of here is a priority,” he said. “It should be a priority to the county, the state, the town of Manchester and the citizens of that (town).”
In his comments, Haines shared how on July 1, 1954, former Gov. Theodore McKeldin cut the ribbon on the Westminster Bypass — now known as Route 140.
“What’s happened?” Haines asked. “Route 140 is basically Main Street Westminster because Route 140 was not a limited access highway. We’ve learned lessons from the past, and thankfully this newly-constructed highway has very limited access and will never become another Main Street Hampstead.”
Julia Gouge, president of Carroll’s Board of County Commissions and a former Hampstead mayor, said she helped push for the bypass when she served on Hampstead’s council in the 1970s. She is glad to see it open.
“It took a little while; it took a lot of suggestions, but the reality is that happened,” she said.
Neil Pedersen, SHA administrator, also recalled the challenges of constructing the bypass. When Pedersen joined the administration as a consultant in 1979, the SHA had just dropped the highway from its plans.
During the 1980s, he and Gouge, as well as other Hampstead and Manchester officials, saw the project’s viability teeter-totter.
The bypass’ proposed alignment changed, and the project was nearly halted as engineers tried to address routes for trucks hauling hazardous waste, to deal with wetlands and agricultural land and to protect the bog turtle, Pedersen said.
“(I remember) the frustration in the mid-1980s of how long it would take us to have a project at that time,” he said. “We were projecting the earliest we would have it under construction was the late 1980s and having to wait that long for a project that would open in the early 1990s.
“But, we persisted.”
SHA installed tunnels underneath the highway for bog turtles to use to cross, and started this year using goats to trim the grass as opposed to having mower blades potentially striking the turtles. The bog turtle is listed as a threatened species by the federal Endangered Species Act.
“Interesting at that time, I didn’t even know what a bog turtle was,” Pedersen said. “I’m convinced today that the bog turtle will continue to live and thrive in this area.”
Pedestrians are now able to use new ADA-compliant sidewalks along Hampstead-Mexico Road.
For commuters, a new park-and-ride lot with 39 spaces near that stretch of road will open this fall.