Garden Parkway Funding in Jeopardy
Support for funding the Garden Parkway project with state funds is dwindling.
Excerpt from the Gaston Gazette
Wavering support for the Garden Parkway continues to show itself among Gaston County’s state-level representatives.
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The most recent state spending plan from the House still includes the parkway funding. But the Senate’s position has given toll road proponents more heartburn and cause for concern. If the General Assembly diverts that money to the Mobility Fund, it would mark the second straight year parkway funding has been siphoned there.
“It’s just very disappointing that we can’t move forward on a project that will impact us positively so many years down the road,” said Gaston County Commissioner Donnie Loftis.
Sen. Kathy Harrington, a Gaston County Republican who supports the funding transfer, said her opposition to the parkway remains unchanged.
“I have never supported the project and I have not changed my stance,” she said Tuesday evening. “The philosophy of the transportation budget was to take care of our existing roads and bridges and complete unfinished projects. I believe this budget proposal works to that end.”
The 22-mile parkway would link I-485 in Charlotte with I-85 near Bessemer City, at a cost of $930 million. Right of way acquisition was to begin this fall, with construction beginning in 2013 and lasting three to four years.
The state previously pledged “gap funding” of $35 million a year for 40 years to help build it, and the money was to begin flowing last year. But that commitment has wobbled in light of recent budget woes in Raleigh, and a change in Gaston’s state leadership.
As recently as two years ago, Gaston County had two state senators in David Hoyle and Jim Forrester who were avid parkway supporters. But Hoyle didn’t run for re-election in 2010 and Harrington won his seat in District 43 — primarily based on her toll road opposition.
Forrester, a Stanley resident, died in office last November. His appointed replacement in District 41 was Iredell County Republican Chris Carney, who represents only a fraction of Gaston County and does not support the parkway.
Harrington and Carney both favor the Senate plan to shift money from the parkway to the Mobility Fund. The fund was created in 2010 to support shovel-ready transportation projects of statewide or regional significance. It pulls money from unused gap funds and reductions in transfers from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund.
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Carney said the N.C. Department of Transportation expects to see further delays in moving ahead with the parkway over the next year. Assuming that’s the case, it makes more sense to divert the $17.5 million elsewhere, he said.
But he also thinks the toll road should be put on the back burner.
“We’ve got some more severe transportation issues in our district,” he said. “I support prioritizing our resources. And I just don’t see the Garden Parkway being more important than some other projects that could alleviate massive congestion headaches we’re having.”
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N.C. DOT spokeswoman Greer Beaty said the transfer of money from the parkway to the Mobility Fund shouldn’t be taken as a sign of nonsupport. Delays in the project the last two years have meant the money wasn’t needed to start construction. They also expect the toll road could be further delayed by a pending lawsuit.
“We’re not ready to use those gap funds,” said Beaty. “If those funds can be used for projects that are ready to go, and which meet the Mobility Fund criteria, that’s a better use of those funds right now.”
But Keigher said transferring the money to the Mobility Fund is equivalent to giving it away.
“The funding needed to start this project will likely be spent in another N.C. county, on a different project,” he wrote to Harrington and Carney. “But the monies will still be spent.”
You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826 or twitter.com/GazetteMike.
Read more: http://www.gastongazette.com/articles/garden-72179-parkway-wavering.html#ixzz1xhjI8AtY