CHARLOTTE – A matter related to a proposed road that would run from western Charlotte to Gaston County was essentially tabled by members of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) at the group’s July 20 meeting.
The matter concerned a project called Catawba Crossings, which if built would extend Charlotte’s West Boulevard five miles west from Interstate 485 across both forks of the Catawba River and connect to New Hope Road in Gaston County, an area that has relatively little in the way of developed land.
The Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln Metropolitan Planning Organization (GCLMPO) requested that the CRTPO support a plan to have Catawba Crossing designated as a state road, which would give the project more standing in the eyes of the North Carolina Department of Transportation decision-makers.
Speaking during the public comments portion of the meeting, Martin Oakes and Bill Toole both said the project would divert a large chunk of funding away from more needed road projects. Oakes is vice chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, and Toole is a former member of the Belmont City Council.
But Gastonia City Manager Michael Peoples said the project does have merit and that it would “open up thousands of acres” for development.
At some point during the discussions about it, the project picked up the moniker, “the bridge to nowhere,” because of the relatively small amount of land development on the Gaston side of it, and most CRTPO members, representing Iredell, Mecklenburg and Union counties, who spoke on the matter took a position against the GCLMPO request.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett said that while he was not opposed to the project outright, he was against CRTPO giving it support because the road would serve Gaston County at the expense of Mecklenburg. Puckett said the it would be mostly used by people who would live in Gaston County – paying property taxes and spending most of their money there – but commuting to Charlotte to work.
“That may sound like an innocuous thing, but it’s not,” Puckett said. “We could end up using our funding on a road that gives us nothing on this side of the river.”
Mineral Springs Mayor Frederick Becker suggested the organization “pull the plug” on support for the project.
Waxhaw Mayor Stephen Maher said he did not feel that the matter was “vetted in the normal way” and also suggested voting against it.
Davidson Commissioner Brian Jenest asked CRTPO Secretary Bob Cook if a good portion of the land on the Gaston side was developed, and Cook said it was not.
Iredell County Commissioner Jeff McNeely said the project amounted to taxpayers funding something that would be of more benefit to land developers than anyone else and said, “they fund their own roads.”
McNeely said the charge of CRTPO is to “mitigate traffic issues” in the area covered by the organization and that the construction of Catawba Crossing would actually “create them.”
It was at that point McNeely said the organization should “drive a stake through the heart” of the request, and he made a motion “turn the resolution down.”
Puckett followed up on McNeely’s sentiment about the project creating more problems than it solves and – putting a twist a famous movie quote – said, “If we don’t build it, they won’t come.”
Puckett added, “We won’t stop them (GCLMPO) from doing what’s best for them, but I’m going to protect the people I was elected to protect.”
The matter seemed destined to be voted down until Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, who represents the Queen City on the CRTPO board, said she needed more time to consider it before she would vote on it one way or the other. And because votes are weighted in CRTPO meetings based on population, Charlotte has 48 percent of the voting power for the group.
“I know you think I’m sitting here like a queen on her throne because I have the Charlotte vote,” Lyles said. “But I don’t know how it could hurt to get more information. The numbers (data concerning the project) aren’t there.”
She then made a substitute motion to remand the matter back to the organization’s Technical Coordinating Committee (TTC), which is made up of top planning staff from the various counties, municipalities and other entities comprising CRTPO membership.
Statesville Mayor Pro Tem Michael Johnson, CRTPO vice chair, agreed.
“What’s the harm in letting them (the TCC) study it?” Johnson said. “We’re not compelled to vote for it when it comes back to us.”
Lyles’ motion passed with a split vote.
Many at the CRTPO meeting referred to Catawba Crossing by another nickname, “the Son of Garden Parkway,” in reference a road planned to go from West Boulevard to Bessemer City and cost between $800 million. Like the Interstate 77 widening project, portions of the Garden Parkway were to include toll lanes.
The NCDOT rescinded funding for the Garden Parkway project in 2013.