Shared from the 2016-08-08 Gaston Gazette eEdition

MY TURN

Catawba Crossings would bring critical connectivity

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REGINA MOODY

Improved transportation access is a fundamental necessity for Gaston County to grow and prosper. We are blessed with the connectivity provided by I-85 and Wilkinson Boulevard, but those traffic arteries are too limited in their capacity and prone to maddening traffic tie-ups in the event of an accident. What Gaston County really needs is greater access across the Catawba River. Now, we are all one step closer to that, thanks to last week’s vote in favor of Catawba Crossings.

Last summer, the MPO approved adding Catawba Crossings to the Transportation Improvement Plan for the region in the 2031-40 timeframe; however, when Catawba Crossings was “scored” earlier this year by the NC Department of Transportation for funding and timing priorities, it did not score as highly as many of us hoped. We believe there was an error in how the state analyzed the project, measuring only on a very limited basis how it would improve access and relieve congestion.

So, earlier this week, representatives of the business community across Gaston County made that point, as well as others in public comments to the Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Fortunately, the MPO agreed and voted to pursue a broader “regional” analysis of Catawba Crossings and to authorize a feasibility study to support that analysis and identify possible additional funding sources.

The project will include a new road connection from South New Hope Road to a new bridge across the South Fork River, a new road across the South Point peninsula above the Allen Steam Plant and a new bridge across the Catawba River to the area of the planned Lincoln-Harris, Crescent Resources development that would be west of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. This route is on a short segment of the old Garden Parkway corridor but Catawba Crossings would not be a toll facility and would be a different classification of roadway.

The speakers represented a broad coalition of business and economic development organizations and were all united in emphasizing exactly how important the Catawba Crossings project is for our county and the region. Everyone presented compelling arguments on increased access, congestion relief, increased economic development, enhanced safety and the positive regional impacts of Catawba Crossings.

So much is happening on both sides of the Catawba River, making access increasingly vital. There is continued residential growth and the potential for retail, commercial, office and industrial growth on the Gaston County side and on the Mecklenburg side, there’s the continued expansion of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the new intermodal terminal, warehousing and distribution growth, the planned Harris-Crescent River District project and the completion of I-485.

A direct connection between southern Gastonia, Cramerton, Belmont and southern Gaston County to this dynamic and rapidly expanding section of southwest Mecklenburg County and Charlotte will provide convenient two-way access to tens of thousands of area citizens for jobs, shopping, housing and recreation.

There was also a great deal discussed about rush hour congestion currently on I-85 and at times on Wilkinson Blvd., and the lack of alternative routes to and from Charlotte. The streets through Belmont have real difficulty handling rush hour traffic as commuters from the South Point peninsula and South Carolina struggle to get across the existing bridges, not to mention the continual rush hour backups on I-485 trying to access I-85 South. Each of the speakers cited Catawba Crossings as one sure way to bring a bit of congestion relief across the region.

The speakers from the chambers of commerce also detailed the economic benefits of increased access and decreased congestion for the MPO. The bridges will open the door to new businesses, new neighborhoods, exciting new places to shop, eat and socialize, and new greenways and trails. Catawba Crossings will better connect two vibrant and vital neighbors across the Catawba River from one another, energizing and stimulating both economies.

A couple of speakers closed their remarks with a sobering but important point about safety and security. In times of crisis, whether natural or manmade, it will only help to have more crossings of the Catawba River. As a region we would be less vulnerable if there were additional alternative routes across the river for one of the more highly-traveled corridors on the east coast.

The MPO vote to continue work on the Catawba Crossings project is one important step. There is much more work to be done, but progress continues on a project that can help our region address problems and create unique new opportunities for our citizens. I’m excited that we’re still on the path to making Catawba Crossings a reality.

—Tim Efird and Regina Moody are co-chairs of the Transportation/Access Committee of the Alliance for Growth.

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