Cover Story: Green light for Garden Parkway?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

BELMONT, NC (WBTV) - New life for the Garden Parkway, the proposed toll road North Carolina wants to build around Gastonia to get rid of congestion on I-85 between Charlotte and Gaston county.

Neighbors have lobbied against it, but now the state has taken away a big stumbling block making residents happy and in the process may give the green light to the Garden Parkway.

"I can get a boat. I can go fishing whenever I want.. this is a wonderful place to live."

One look around and it's obvious why Stacey Ivancic and her husband chose this place on the South Fork River south of Belmont.

When they bought it.. the Garden Parkway the toll road proposed to start at 485 in west Mecklenburg and run west bypassing Gastonia and hooking up with I-85 in western Gaston county.. was just a dream.

It wasn't until they found out the chosen route was going to go right through her backyard and further that the road was going to stop short that she really got involved.

"Why didn't they do that the first time? Why didn't they do that from the beginning?"

Questions Ivancic asks now, but questions that might never have been asked were it not for the website she set up and the heavy campaign of signs and bumper stickers she and her neighbors waged against the Turnpike Authority.

"No toll road.. no toll road."

Last year, the state said it could only afford to build half the Garden Parkway upsetting residents building it only as far as Highway 321 which would wind up dumping traffic onto city streets in Gastonia.

But this week the state came back with a new cheaper plan to build the Garden Parkway the full length, 22 miles, by eliminating or downsizing some interchanges and taking the road from I-485 to Highway 321 from a six lane to a four lane divided highway and making it a 2-lane road the rest of the way.

"They did a lot of great things," says Ivancic.  "I really don't know if there would have been this much opposition if they'd done that in the first place.. but they didn't. And the opposition is there and it made the road a better road."

The road's been envisioned for three decades, a need for another transportation link between Mecklenburg and Gaston counties which are separated by the Catawba River.

North Carolina state senator David Hoyle who's carried the torch for the Garden Parkway and taken heat for it of late hopes this ends the controversy.

He says, "Now with the new plan, they can stretch it and get to 85.. that issue needs to go away. It should go away and I believe it will go away."

There are still a few more hurdles to cross.  One hurdle is the state's got to be able to line up financing.  It's borrowing the money to build the turnpike and then will pay off the loans through tolls.

They have shaved $352 million off the $1.2 billion dollar project and if things fall into place later this year road could be completed by the end of 2014.

Does this end the opposition?  It takes a lot of wind out of their sail.  The stop the toll road people say they're going to keep the pressure up on policy makers so there aren't any changes.

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