I-85 widening gaining favor in Gaston County

Updated:

GASTONIA, N.C. - More officials in Gaston County are starting to get behind a plan to widen Interstate 85 again instead of building a new toll road in the southern part of the county.

The Gastonia City Council plans to pass a resolution Tuesday supporting the expansion of I-85 from three to four lanes between Exit 10 and Exit 26, according to The Gaston Gazette.

I-85 expansion would likely mean the toll road Garden Parkway in the southern part of the county would face a long delay or never get built. A new priority road formula for state funding means officials would have to choose between an additional lane on I-85 or the 22-mile toll road.

"I can tell you both cannot be done, unless it's at different stages in time. There's not enough money," said Hank Graham, a lead transportation planner for the city of Gastonia.

The Garden Parkway has been a top priority of transportation planners for two decades, and is still endorsed by the Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce. Millions have been spent planning the road and preparing to build it.

But the project is currently caught up in a lawsuit with environmentalists and may have fallen out of favor with the people. Gaston County voters have chosen leaders during recent elections that oppose the proposed road.

One of those elected officials is Republican Rep. Dana Bumgardner, who is joining with two other lawmakers to ask the Gaston Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to back I-85 over the Garden Parkway in December.

"Whether we build the Garden Parkway or not, we're going to have to widen 85," Bumgardner said. "I don't think there will be near the same political opposition to doing it from voters and taxpayers."