A Gastonia Republican filed a bill last week in the General Assembly that would stop all funding and planning for the Garden Parkway, a proposed toll road from Mecklenburg County through south Gaston County.
State Rep. Dana Bumgardner’s bill would require the N.C. Department of Transportation stop spending money on the 22-mile roll road, which would add a new bridge across the Catawba River. The project has been estimated to cost $800 million.
Bumgardner said his bill (HB 134) would save tax dollars and preserve “people’s private properties from a pointless road.”
The parkway is one of the most controversial highway projects in the state. The Garden Parkway, also known as the Gaston East-West Connector, is a planned toll road approximately 21.9 miles from I-85 west of Gastonia in Gaston County to I-485 near the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in Mecklenburg County with new crossings over the South Fork and Catawba Rivers. The new toll road is estimated to cost about 15 cents per mile and save drivers up to 28 minutes each trip, according to www.ncdot.gov/projects/gardenparkway.
Critics have said it will do little to relieve congestion on Interstate 85 in Gaston. They also contend that it will damage the environment.
If the bill passes, it is good news for water quality in Lake Wylie, said Catawba Riverkeeper Rick Gaskins on Thursday.
“The proposed project would have a substantial negative impact on Lake Wylie in terms of sediment, trash and other pollutants,” Gaskins said.
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Clean Air Carolina and the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill filed a lawsuit against the project last summer contending the federally required Environmental Impact Statement was flawed. The case was scheduled for mediation this week. The law center successfully sued to stop construction – for now – of the Charlotte area’s other toll road, the Monroe Connector-Bypass.
Former N.C. Transportation Secretary Gene Conti was a strong supporter of the Monroe toll road, though Conti was less enthusiastic about the Gaston project. Last year he said the state would postpone seeking needed state and federal environmental permits because of the pending litigation.
“In order to avoid unnecessary litigation costs, we are discussing with the court and opposing counsel the possibility of postponing the mediation and related litigation until the N.C. General Assembly votes on the bill,” Gaskins said.
A number of business leaders in Gaston County support the highway, saying it will improve connections to Charlotte and bolster the local economy.
Steve Harrison of the Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.