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Gaston Businesses Push For Garden Parkway

Gaston County business leaders have launched a public relations campaign to promote the Garden Parkway. State lawmakers are on the cusp of a key budget decision that will determine the future of the proposed toll road. North Carolina transportation officials hope to receive final permit approval for the Garden Parkway in the coming months. Then it'll be a matter of state lawmakers earmarking the promised $35 million appropriation in next year's budget. Lawmakers will need to annually earmark a similar amount for the next 40 years in order for the Garden Parkway to be built. Toll revenues will cover the rest of the nearly $1 billion price tag. But support for the proposed 22-mile toll road has faltered in recent months. "We think it's time to get the public aware of the positives," says John Kimbrell, president of the Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce. Kimbrell says businesses have donated several thousand dollars for a campaign that includes TV commercials touting the jobs and growth the Garden Parkway would bring. An economic study the group recently commissioned predicted 18,000 new jobs would come to Gaston County by 2035 as a result of the new road stretching from I-485 in Charlotte to I-85 near Bessemer City. "We have not probably done the best of jobs educating individuals," says Kimbrell. "With the study results we think now is the time to do that - to show that there are positives, especially on job creation." The chamber's study runs contrary to the Environmental Impact Statement for the Garden Parkway, which predicts Gaston County will actually lose several hundred jobs as people move further south for better access to the new toll road. A citizens group and several officials from Belmont and Gastonia have come out against the Garden Parkway. They say it will do little to improve congestion on I-85 and worry the toll will deter people. State transportation officials hope to secure funding for the parkway by the end of this year - but only if lawmakers preserve the promised appropriation, which is why the Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce has launched its campaign.