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Now is the time to speak up: Study seeks input on new bridge between Gaston and Mecklenburg

Catawba Crossings is the latest proposal in a decades-long debate to build a new road spanning the Catawba River to connect Gaston and Mecklenburg Counties.

GASTONIA, N.C. — Regional transit planners are asking drivers for feedback on a proposed roadway that would span both the South Fork and Catawba Rivers to connect Gaston and Mecklenburg counties.

The project, dubbed Catawba Crossings, would start at South New Hope Road near Belmont, span the South Fork and Catawba rivers, cross a new interchange at I-485 before ending at Steele Creek Road, which is located just south of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

An additional roadway connecting the counties has been planned and debated for decades. Most recently efforts focused on the controversial Garden Parkway, a proposed toll road that the state officially ended in 2016.

Supporters of this new project argue the road is needed to relieve congestion on Interstate 85 and Wilkinson Boulevard, both popular thoroughfares for crossing the Catawba River.

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 "I think it’s fantastic," Ryan McGuinness, a homeowner whose neighborhood is close to where Catawba Crossings would start on South New Hope Road, told WCNC Charlotte. "Anything that'll reduce commute times in and out of Charlotte would be great."

Jonathon and Melissa Austin also support a new road.

"I think that would be a good idea," Melissa Austin said. "I travel to and from the airport a lot so I think it'll be beneficial for us."

However, opponents fear Catawba Crossings will cause more congestion on South New Hope Road and South Point Road, which are only two lanes.

This school year, families and residents living near Belmont Middle School and South Point High School complained of existing heavy traffic during school arrival and dismissal times.

While city leaders are planning a new parkway to relieve some of South Point Road's congestion, several residents who submitted public comments to planners fear Catawba Crossings will worsen the situation.

"There's definitely room for improvements in regards to infrastructure in the Belmont area," McGuinness said. "It's such a growing community. They do have to make improvements to the existing roadways."

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Both residents and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) also criticized Catawba Crossings arguing the project will lead to significant environmental damage.

"Catawba Crossings, like its predecessor, represents a short-sighted, costly, and unsustainable approach to regional transportation, rather than a sustainable path forward," the SELC wrote in a 2021 letter to planners. "The Catawba Crossings project as envisioned by the Feasibility Study Group would have serious environmental consequences."

The proposed road would hug undeveloped land associated with the River District project in west Charlotte.

Credit: Catawba Crossings

The Catawba Crossings' planners will be hosting an open house about the project on Feb. 2 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at Gaston College's Kimbrell Campus Auditorium, which is located at 7220 Wilkinson Boulevard in Belmont.

Residents can also submit comments on the project's website here.

The project will be accepting public comments through Feb. 13.

Contact Brandon Golder at bgoldner@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.