by: Ken Lemon Updated:
GASTON COUNTY, N.C. - Drivers in Gaston County are one step closer to seeing traffic relief on Interstate 85.
Leaders are moving forward with a plan would widen I-85 to four lanes each way from exit 26 in Belmont to the U.S. 74 interchange at exit 10, near Crowder's Mountain.
Commissioners said the problem on I-85 starts at Belmont, where the road narrows from four lanes to three, creating congestion. The tie-up often extends into west Charlotte.
Commissioners said this is dangerous and it's bad for business. Drivers said the rush hour crunch on I-85 is maddening especially when there is an accident.
"To go 5 miles takes two hours," said driver Scott Parks.
Belmont City Councilman Bill Tool said there are about three to four accidents every week.
"It cost Belmont a tremendous amount of money to respond to those accidents that we see out there that are due entirely to that 'Belmont squeeze,'" Tool said.
He was glad to learn Gaston County commissioners voted Tuesday night to ask the state to fund a widening project, making I-85 four lanes all the way through the county.
"They need to widen the road. Make it more safer," driver Scott Williams said.
It would also be more profitable, commissioner Chad Brown believes. He thinks the widening would mean more money for Gaston County.
He said there are plans to put a cargo railway hub at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, and says that cargo would travel easier on four lanes on I-85 versus just three.
"Help us make Gastonia the viable option we can for those people to house the economic development they have," Brown said.
Channel 9 spoke by phone to Commissioner Joe Carpenter, who is also chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. He said the state would have to find about $800 million to fund this kind of project.
"It would require rebuilding all of the bridges and interchanges. I think there are four railroad bridges which would be very expensive," Carpenter said.
Carpenter said there are right-of-way issues and environmental impact studies must be done.
He said if all goes as planned, it could still take up to eight years before work starts.