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Does Bankrupt SC Toll Road Spell Trouble For Garden Parkway?

A toll road in Greenville, South Carolina has gone bankrupt, leading to concerns that the Garden Parkway may not work as a toll road, either. The Southern Connector is a 16-mile loop that juts off of I-85 in Greenville - about halfway between Charlotte and Atlanta. Eight years ago a private developer got approval to build the toll road with hopes that big industrial development would come to that part of town and generate plenty of toll revenue to pay for the road. No such luck. Traffic is less than half what was projected. The nonprofit that operates the road has filed for bankruptcy, which would seem a bad sign for another toll road 80 miles across the state line, right? "No, these are totally different projects," says David Joyner, executive director of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority. Joyner is confident bankruptcy is not in the cards for the proposed Garden Parkway, which would connect I-85 and I-485 around the southern end of Gaston County. First of all, Joyner says there are twice as many people in the Charlotte-Gastonia area as there are in Greenville. Secondly, the road is designed to ease congestion already on I-85. Third, Joyner says the Garden Parkway is required to have a bigger cushion in its traffic revenue estimates because it will be built with state and federal money. The Southern Connector was financed entirely by private loans and the road plans were subject to less scrutiny. "The numbers would have to be off so substantially that it would be pretty hard to imagine," says Joyner of the Garden Parkway. But Bill Toole is skeptical of that argument. He's on the Belmont City Council and part of a community group opposing the toll road. "It's not gonna work in Gaston County," says Toole. "People in Gaston County just won't pay that kind of money for such a small time savings." Based on standard fees for toll roads, it would cost a little over three dollars to drive the full length of the Garden Parkway and that would save about 10 minutes driving time. The exact toll and traffic estimates for the road won't be known until October when an official study is complete. As it turns out, that study is being done by the same firm that significantly over-estimated the likely success of the Southern Connector in Greenville. But the Turnpike Authority's David Joyner says North Carolina officials will give the study extra scrutiny before committing to a billion dollar toll road in Gaston County.