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NCTA drastically changes the Garden Parkway

In a response to the numerous concerns of the cost and construction timing for the Garden Parkway, the North Carolina Turnpike Authority has drastically changed the make up of the highway.

Residents and community leaders had expressed concerns about the highway which is planned to run parallel to the South of Interstate 85 in Gaston County.  The toll highway would link I-85 near Bessemer City to Interstate 485 near Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Original financing and construction plans for the road was to build the Garden Parkway from I-485 westward over the Catawba River into Gaston County and temporarily ending at US 321 near Gastonia.  The rest of the highway from US 321 to I-85 was to be built at a later date - when funding would become available.

Numerous concerns about traffic dumping on to US 321 - among others - were voiced, and the NCTA has now dramatically changed the highway in order to build it all in one shot.  The changes would cut an estimated $350 million from the cost of the highway.

So what changes are going to be made?
  1. Some interchanges will not be built - (Bud Wilson Rd., Robinson Road, Linwood Rd, and possibly US 29/74)
  2. Others will be drastically changed.  A partial cloverleaf at Union Road (NC 274) will now be a compressed diamond.  The interchange with I-485 will be redesigned.
  3. The travel lanes will be reduced.  Originally planned for six lanes throughout - the road will be four lanes from I-485 west to US 321.  But it will be reduced to a two lane road (one lane in each direction) aka a 'Super-2' from US 321 to I-85.  Right-of-way will be kept to expand to four lanes when traffic warrants.
  4. Design of the highway will roll more with the terrain vs. a higher vertical alignment.
NCTA hopes that after a Record of Decision this October, they can begin construction in March 2011.  The road would most likely open sometime in 2014.

However, there are a lot of issues that needs to be cleared up between now and October.  The final traffic and revenue projections will not be released until August and many of the concerns raised by outside groups in a prior environmental impact statement needs to be addressed.


Story Links:
State unveils creative plan for build full Garden Parkway ---Gaston Gazette
Garden Parkway Project Update February 25, 2010 ---NC Turnpike Authority

Commentary:
Well it sure looks like the NCTA is doing everything possible to build a very unpopular highway.  Even with the newly proposed plan, there are still a lot of things that need to fall into place for this road to be built, and even the NCTA admits that!

First, they are relying on receiving a loan from the US Department of Transportation to cover about 1/3 of the total projects new cost.  (The road will now cost about $950 million to build vs. nearly $1.3 billion).  The loan is called a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act or TIFIA.  There is no guarantee's the NCTA will receive a TIFIA loan for this project.

Also, the NCTA admits that they are banking on interest rates to remain low in the short term and that credit needs to remain available.

But there is one thing I found interesting in this proposal.

By scaling back the size and scope of the project (from six to four even as low as two lanes), isn't the NCTA conceding that the future traffic volumes on the highway will not support the toll road?   Again, the road is a southern bypass of I-85.  Unless Gaston County sees a significant growth in the southeastern part of the county, the road is not going to be a help to many.

If that's the case, is the Garden Parkway really necessary?

Comments

Larry G said…
In a word - skulduggery. Sounds like these guys are loose cannons IMHO.

I can only think they must exist and have support at the state level because some must think NCDOT is not the right agency to include in it's mission what NCTA is doing.

Virginia does what is known as PPTA which allows solicited and unsolicited proposals for toll roads but VDOT coordinates them AFAIK ...

I think NCTA and North Carolina are going to end up like that toll road in South Carolina that went belly up if they are not careful.
John said…
It appears that NCTA believes that design standards and procedures are just words that can be changed to suit whatever they need at the time. Note that they use the word "consider" for all the redesigns/elimination of interchanges. That's hardly a hard and fast "we will" do anything; I know the engineer speak and it doesn't mean what you think it does, Adam.

Also, removing 1/3 of the capacity in an area with explosive growth tells me they are doing anything at all to get the overall cost down below a certain number. Same with the redesign of the main alignment, removal/redesign of interchanges, etc. Didn't initial capacity studies show the need for 6 lanes? Don't they still show that?

I'd say this is an attempt to cut costs more than addressing public opposition comments. I'm also wondering what the agencies will think if they had approved the earlier design, now they're showing something 100% different.
Matt from CLT said…
I'm still amazed at this entire project. I can think of many, many things which I would rather see taken care of before this white elephant. (Hello, NCTA? I-185 calling. Let's do lunch some time. You'll have to pick up the tab, though, since I'm flat broke.)

I live off of 160 at 485, and drive westward fairly often, but I can't for the life of me figure out why I would use this road. I think a much better idea would be to toll the first, say, two miles of 321 from I-85 north. That way you get some desperately needed improvements at that interchange, and the NCTA still has something to keep them entertained.

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