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Would/Could the Gaston MPO be the determining factor for the Garden Parkway

It's been listed as their top transportation priority for Gaston County for nearly a decade. But could the organization that has listed the Garden Parkway as #1 on their Long Range Transportation Planning goals be the most important factor in determining if the proposed controversial toll road becomes a reality?

Apparently so.

The Gaston MPO has long been supportive of the project. However, recently revelations on how the project has been built has caused some concern for those on the 13 member panel.

One of the biggest 'red flags' was the announcement that the highway would be built in two segments. From I-485 near Charlotte-Douglass International Airport to US 321 south of Gastonia. And then later, the remainder of the highway from US 321 to I-85 near Bessemer City.

Opponents of the highway, point to the traffic that will be dumped on US 321 and northwards to I-85 through Gastonia, specifically the York-Chester Historic District. This development does have some members of Gastonia's City Council concerned.

Some proponents of the parkway are now looking at ways to build the highway all at once - at a cheaper cost. That includes reducing the highways from six to four lanes - and the elimination of some interchanges.

If the Gaston MPO changes their mind on the Garden Parkway, Turnpike Executive David Joyner said that the NCTA would listen.

"We’re not going to try to go out there and ram a toll road down somebody’s throat that doesn’t want it," said Joyner. "I assure you that."

This would be the second occurrence this year of a Metropolitan Planning Organization determining the fate of a Metro Charlotte highway project. Currently, the Mecklenburg-Union MPO is debating on how to prioritize their group's transportation needs. Their decision will impact at least three projects - the completion of the I-485 Loop, the continuation of upgrading Independence Blvd. to an urban expressway, and the construction of the Monroe Bypass.

Story Link:
Elected leaders could determine fate of proposed Garden Parkway ---Gaston Gazette

Commentary:
What caught my interest in this story is not that the Gaston MPO could seriously put to an end this highway - or on the other hand put to an end the opposition of the route - it is the talk of streamlining or downsizing the highway to get it all built at once.

The talk of eliminating some of the highway's 11 interchanges, and reducing the capacity from six to four lanes caught my interest the most.

The route as proposed - is a toll parallel south of I-85. So basically it is as if I-85 ran through Southern Gaston County vs. where it runs today. Though traffic on I-85 isn't the best, traffic projections and even some common sense show that the highway as tolled doesn't show it as a relief to the Interstate. In other words, why pay a toll to get to the airport or I-485 in the same amount of time that you can do for free.

But what if the toll road was more of an express route - would that change the dynamics? Eliminate interchanges for local use...Keep one at US 321 and maybe one or two others - and make it more of a direct 'express' route to the Airport and I-485.

Would an 'express route' to I-485 and the Charlotte-Douglass make more sense for the toll road? Or does the fact that most of those that would use it for that purpose would have to be residents of Upstate South Carolina or from Cleveland County and west still make it not worthwhile?

Personally, though I like the 'express' route toll road idea more, I can't see how this would change many minds - let alone my own. Plus, that would cause the NCTA to most likely go back to the drawing board - pushing the project further back.

The true key is what the City of Gastonia and County Commissioners think. If the new concerns about the route and the growing sentiment against the Garden Parkway continues to gain momentum, I can see Gaston MPO deciding to de-emphasize the project. It would be a major reversal, but one that isn't improbable.


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