Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Feds give go ahead to the Garden Parkway

I apologize that I haven't blogged about this topic in awhile.

Last week, the Federal Highway Administration awarded a favorable 'Record of Decision' to the North Carolina Turnpike Authority for the route of the proposed Garden Parkway in Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties.  The decision is a blow to citizen group's that are opposed to the route.

Opposition groups will now focus on some of the environmental and financial hurdles the route still needs to clear.

The NCTA plans to finance the project from toll revenue, bond financing, and GARVEE funds.  But another key part of financing is approval from the state legislature of $17.5 million this year and then additional $35 million per year over the next 40 years.

The total cost of the 22 mile highway is $930 million.

The state plans to build the new toll road through two design-build projects.  The first design build project will build a four lane limited access highway from I-485 near Wilson Farm Roadin Mecklenburg County westward to US 321 south of Gastonia.  The second project will build a two-lane, known as a 'Super Two', limited access highway from US 321 north and westwards to Interstate 85 near Bessemer City.

Along the two lane section, the NCTA will purchase the right-of-way for four lanes with the intention to build the entire highway at a later date.  The Turnpike Authority hopes to begin construction in the Summer of 2013 and have the first segments of the highway open to traffic in 2015.

Tolls for highway are estimated at 15 cents per mile or about $3.30 for a one way trip.  Like the Triangle Expressway in Raleigh, all tolls will be collected electronically.

The NCTA has to await for all environmental permits to be approved.  Input and approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and the NC Division of Water Quality is still needed for any construction to move forward.  Opponents of the highway are pointing to previous concerns by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers as important obstacles in their favor. 

There is no timetable on when any of the environmental permits or financing approval will occur.

Story Links:
NC Turnpike Authority receives final approval for Garden Parkway Route ---WBTV-TV
Garden Parkway clears key federal hurdle ---Gaston Gazette
Construction on Garden Parkway could start next year ---WSOC-TV
Garden Parkway Route Finalized, Toll Likely $.15/mile ---WFAE-FM

Commentary:
Unlike the I-95 project, I am against this toll road.  It is unnecessary - the real need is a US 321 bypass of Gastonia, which this project will not include.  Gaston County residents are against this toll road by a nearly 3:1 margin.  And it has become a political issue within the county.  State legislators are being asked if they are for or against the highway making it an issue in the primary and the general elections.

The Summer 2013 construction date by no means is set in stone.  First, state funding for the highway has been delayed as a result of budget cuts.  There is a possibility it will return in the 2012-2013 budget and/or future budgets.  Also, the prior concerns by the Army Corps of Engineers and other government environmental agencies could cause changes to the routing and even the cost of the project.  And of course, various groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center could file lawsuits.

Local groups like Stop The Toll Road have been fighting the project every step of the way.  I don't expect them to go down quietly either.

Whether opponents of toll roads like it or not, the toll idea within North Carolina is here to stay.  With numerous needs to maintain, repair, and replace existing roads and infrastructure and the demand to build new highways to keep up with an increasing population - there is only so much money to go around.  However, you can't just have a toll road just because you want to build a highway.  There has to be a legitimate need and the Garden Parkway isn't a legitimate need.  Especially not as a toll road. 



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