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NCTA’s Garden Parkway Project Has Same Problems As Mid-Currituck Bridge Project

Money-waster road will induce sprawl
Gaston toll road won’t create jobs or ease I-85 traffic. Kill it.
Posted: Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011
The state plans to spend $870 million to slash a new road through still mostly rural south Gaston County. It’s a waste of precious transportation money. Here’s why:

The Garden Parkway will not, the state’s projections show, relieve congestion on Interstate 85. Projections show more congestion on I-85 if the road is built.

It won’t create new jobs in the area. In fact, state projections show a slight decrease in the total number of new jobs for areas of Gaston, Mecklenburg and York counties that were studied, compared with a scenario where the road is not built. And the geographic spread of those projected new jobs shows N.C. counties losing 900 jobs and South Carolina gaining 600, compared to a no-build scenario.

Even those job projections are suspect. Project manager Jill Gurak of PBS&J, a consulting firm on the project, in May sent an e-mail questioning whether the job loss data would look bad. She suggested “more outside-the-model smoothing” of the data. (The Turnpike Authority says Gurak didn’t understand computer modeling.)

The Garden Parkway is to be a toll road with tolls helping repay the state’s debt for building it. But because toll revenue isn’t expected to be enough to repay all the debt, the state has set aside $35 million a year for an estimated 30 years – more than $1 billion – to cover the gap.

Think about it. Potholes scar state-maintained streets in Charlotte and other cities; I-85 needs widening in Cabarrus and Gaston counties; a shovel-ready $365 million commuter rail line languishes in Mecklenburg for lack of money. Why spend millions on this useless road?

We are not sure. But we do know this: Two affluent former legislators own developable property at several planned interchanges. One is former Sen. David Hoyle, an influential Gaston County Democrat, now N.C. revenue secretary. He was instrumental in winning state money for the road. In 2006 he and family members bought 327 acres, which await development, near a planned exit. Another is former Sen. Robert Pittenger, a developer and a Mecklenburg Republican. He owns about 2,000 acres along the toll road route.

The state’s projections state clearly that the road won’t create more growth in the growing Charlotte region. It will, though, lure more of the growth to southern Gaston. In other words, existing municipalities – where taxpayers have already paid for fire stations, police stations, schools and water-sewer systems – stand to lose potential new growth, which will instead splatter across undeveloped land near the toll road. The new development will require new, taxpayer-funded infrastructure. So explain again why it’s a good thing to suck growth and jobs away from established town centers?

Steve DeWitt, chief engineer for the state’s Turnpike Authority, defends the road. He says it will reduce congestion and improve mobility. This is transportation theory that’s about as up-to-date as a Nehru jacket. Modern traffic engineers understand the concept of “induced traffic” – new roads tend to cause more traffic than if they were never built.

The Garden Parkway is, to all appearances, a boondoggle. Thousands of Gaston residents oppose it. It will destroy existing homes and rural areas, create air pollution and costly sprawl. All it appears good for is enriching developers and politicians. The state should find better uses for its millions.

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