GASTON COUNTY, N.C. -- The Metropolitan Planning Organization representing Gaston and surrounding counties made it clear: they don’t want to delay the widening of the I-85.
Thursday night, the board voted to reject the letter, sent on their behalf, asking the state transportation department for a feasibility study before the project can proceed.
Some members saw the letter, and the resolution drafted by Chairman Joe Carpenter, as a blatant attempt at reverting to an old way of prioritizing state highway projects.
State House of Representative Dana Baumgartner stood before the board to push for the widening project.
“I’m here to tell you, the Garden Toll Parkway is not going to get built,” he said.
Baumgartner called the letter the latest delay tactic, fueled by the state’s ranking of the two contentious projects, under the new scoring system.
The $200 million widening project fared significantly higher than the controversial Garden Parkway, a 22-mile toll road through the southern part of Gaston County, which would cost an estimated four times as much to build.
“The voters have spoken, and it’s time we move forward with projects that are doable and quit wasting time and energy on projects we are not going to get,” he said.
Chairman Joe Carpenter apologized to the group, saying his intention was not to delay the project. He said was not aware he signed off on the letter that inadvertently implied he wanted the study completed before the project moves forward.
Some members of the board were frustrated the letter was sent without their knowledge. But according to a state transportation representative, NCDOT's procedure is that a study be done at this point in the process. It would be an environmental study, which he says is more thorough than a feasibility study.
James Walker, an attorney who has been closely following the battle waging on for 20 years, says the board’s rejection of the letter is also a sure sign the new system which was intended to de-politicize the prioritizing of state projects is working.
"It’s the poster child of success. This is how a road should be built, by the number and by the need,” he said.
Carpenter says he supports the new system, but contends the other side continues to politicize the process in a different way.
He says, the parkway project has been his top priority for 20 years, and he is not ready to give up on the fight.
“Well I’m not, but if this board chooses to do that, then that’s the way it will go,” he said.
The group will have until the end of August to reward points for various projects and make a recommendation. The state’s decision will partly be determined using the recommendation of the board.
Supporters of the project hope construction will begin as early as 2015. Planners say the funding deadline is June of 2015, and believe it may take up to two years to begin construction if approved.