North Carolina Turnpike Authority select route for west Charlotte area tollroad
By Peter Samuel
A route has been selected for a Gaston East-West Connector, a tollroad planned on the western edge of the greater Charlotte NC area. This is an important step toward completing environmental and planning clearances. The road is also known as Garden Parkway.
With an L-plan the Garden Parkway takes off generally westward from I-485 near NC160 West Boulevard on the southwest corner of Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Mecklenburg County about 11km (7 miles) from downtown Charlotte. Crossing the Catawba River it heads west into Gaston County for about 26km (15 miles) at which point it swings in a rightward arc northward wrapping around the town of Gastonia and ending at I-85
(see metro area map nearby, and more detailed map at bottom of page)
In full the Garden Parkway is a 35.2km (21.9 mile) expressway providing a new route to the major airport Charlotte-Douglas IA, and toward downtown Charlotte from the western suburbs, and improved east-west connectivity across Gaston County, as well as relieving congestion on I-85.
The project of 3+3 main lanes (2+2 lanes likely to be built initially) involves a couple of major bridges over dammed rivers and nine intermediate interchanges as well as the full expressway/expressway interchanges at each end.
There was no roadway reservation. The project involves acquisition of 348 houses, 37 businesses and 7 farms. Project cost of the full Garden Parkway is estimated at $1.28b (average of $1.18b to $1.42b). At 211 lane-kms (131.4 lane-miles) the cost is $6.1m/lane-km (9.8m/lane-mile).
Forecast 2030 traffic volumes vary between 53k to 55k vehicles/day at the eastern end closer to the airport and downtown, dwindling to 10k to 13k veh/day at the outer or western end near I-85.
A serious weakness of the Garden Parkway project seems to be:
(1) the lack of a direct high standard connection to I-77 and downtown Charlotte east of I-485
(2) airport access is concentrated to the north making a southern approach unhelpful
West Boulevard NC160, 10km long (6 miles) is discussed as a candidate for upgrading to address the first problem and to make the Garden Parkway more useful to motorists, but improvements presently contemplated are small.
Volumes are so low on the western quarter that hooks up north to I-85 the Garden Parkway project may only be built from I-485 out to US321.
Cost of that foreshortened option has been estimated at abut $910m.
There has been local concern that terminating the tollroad at US321 could add too much traffic to it.
So another possibility is a single roadway 2-laner on the Parkway alignment US321 to I-85. It could be duplicated to 2+2 lanes later if traffic warranted.
NCTA have said they want a construction start in the first quarter of 2011 shooting for completion end-2014.
Toll collection is to be all-electronic by a mix of transponder reads and license plate cameras - at full highway speeds.
BACKGROUND: The Charlotte NC metro area has (2008 figure) a population of 1.70m people making it the 34th ranking metro area in the US. It is in the same pop size category as Las Vegas NV, Columbus OH, Indianapolis IN, Norfolk VA, Austin TX, Providence RI and Nashville TN.
Growth in the Charlotte area in the last eight years was 28% (from 1.33m) in 2000 one of the faster growing areas of the country due to pro-business, low land cost ('dumb growth'?) policies.
Another toll project coming along in Charlotte metro area - on the southeast side - is the Monroe Bypass.