GASTONIA, N.C. -- Gaston County officials are upset over state Senate action this week that removed $17.5 million for the Garden Parkway project from the proposed 2012-2013 budget.

The money would go to another county s road project, they said, and possibly delay the controversial parkway. They say they are hopeful the House won t go along with the Senate plan.

Meanwhile, opponents of the proposed toll road which would cost up to $900 million were happy with the Senate action.

It makes perfect sense, said longtime opponent Bill Toole of Belmont. There was no way DOT would be able to get permits and go forward with financing (of the project) this year. It makes sense not to set aside money in this budget.

Although there s been a great gnashing of teeth by supporters, it s not going to happen this year.

The Garden Parkway is a proposed 22-mile road that would begin west of Gastonia, at Interstate 85 at Bessemer City, and run south for roughly five miles before turning east toward Charlotte. It would cross the Catawba River and end just south of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Supporters say the toll road would relieve traffic congestion and create jobs; opponents say it s a waste of money.

By July 1, the project was to get $17.5 million from the state and $35 million a year for the next 30 to 35 years.

Right-of-way acquisition was scheduled to begin this fall with construction to follow in 2013. The parkway would open to traffic in late 2015 or early 2016.

On Tuesday, Gaston County Commission chairman Donnie Loftis emailed senators Kathy Harrington and Chris Carney expressing displeasure with their decision to pull the funding.

To let that money leave your district in this economic time is extremely disappointing, Loftis wrote. ...Is there anyone in Raleigh in the Senate speaking up or standing up for our county? This is not the representation we need to impact and grow our economy.

County commissioner Tom Keigher also sent emails to the two lawmakers. In my humble opinion, he wrote, you are contributing to the downfall of perhaps the greatest economic engine that Gaston County has seen in many a year, perhaps since I-85 came through the county in the 1960s.

Keigher said the county commission, business community, and Chamber of Commerce organizations in Gaston County were all greatly disappointed that the Senate pulled the funding for this upcoming fiscal year for the Garden Parkway.

He asked Harrington and Carney to reconsider their positions on the project and become a proponent of economic growth for Gaston County.

Duane McCallister, executive director of the Gaston County Economic Development Commission, said Tuesday the parkway would bring economic growth to a community that s had precious little.

Senator: Tax cut forced move

Harrington, who co-chairs the Senate Transportation Appropriation Committee, said Tuesday that the Senate cut and capped the state gas tax at 37.5 percent for one year in the transportation budget, leaving a shortfall of $149 million.

Cuts in other programs to make up for the shortfall included $32.5 million from the Mid-Currituck bridge and the Garden Parkway.

Harrington said officials at the N.C. Department of Transportation said funds for those two projects wouldn t be needed until 2013-2014. Meanwhile, the $32.5 million will be transferred to the Mobility Fund and DOT will set priorities for its use in bridge projects and other projects.

A longtime opponent of the Garden Parkway, Harrington said her views remain the same. But transferring the money from the parkway project doesn t change anything, she said.

That action will allow us to take care of what we have and complete unfinished projects.

McCallister disagrees.

Our senators are letting us down if they let this project get away from us, he said. And they appear determined to do that. Hopefully, and we expect, the House will keep it (money) in the budget.
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