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New Garden Parkway proposal winning over critics

State officials have come up with a new plan for a proposed toll road through Gaston County that seems to be winning over critics. The thousands of Gaston County residents who signed a petition on www.stopthetollroad.com would rather not see the proposed Garden Parkway built at all. "However, if that doesn't happen, we still want some of the things done right," says Stacey Ivancic, with the website. "Connect it the whole way. Buy out the people underneath the road now so they don't have to think about it in their everyday lives." Ivancic helped organize a citizens' group that spent the last year protesting the state's plan to build a toll road through the southern end of Gaston County. It would be an alternate route connecting I-85 and I-485. When the project's price tag ballooned to more than $1 billion, state officials said they could only afford to build two-thirds of the road, stopping several miles short of I-85. Ivancic's group protested, and so did the Gastonia City Council. They said the half-built parkway would dump heavy traffic into historic neighborhoods, hurt local businesses and leave property owners along the road in limbo. Reid Simons of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority says the state listened. "We redesigned the project to meet the community's desire to see it go from 85 to 485, financing in one package," says Simons. In order to build the Garden Parkway from end-to-end in one shot, the state had to shave $321 million from the total price tag by scaling back interchanges and reducing the road from six lanes down to two in some places. Gastonia City Manager Jim Palenick says the new proposal moves in the right direction, but he worries it may also create new problems. "Do you solve this issue of truly creating congestion mitigation on 85, creating an effective bypass, etc." questions Palenick. "And also, now because you've altered it so much, will the use of it change in such a way you still can't generate enough revenue through tolls to fund it in its new configuration?" The North Carolina Turnpike Authority acknowledges that risk and won't set a toll price until a "Traffic and Revenue Study" for the parkway is finished in October. Then, the state will have to convince bond investors and the federal government to lend it nearly $1 billion so construction can start next spring.