BUILD - Lineberger Connector
A bridge. A bike way. A pedestrian link. A network connector. A gateway.
There is no question the Cities of Gastonia and Lowell and Gaston County’s Lineberger Connector (Lineberger Connector) project is an important economic engine for this region of North Carolina, the surrounding property owners, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Understanding the setting for the Lineberger Connector project, it is easy to understand why these communities have placed so much emphasis on making this connection a priority as a solution to boost the economic vitality in this part of Gaston County following the devastating impact the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had on the region.
The recession, following NAFTA’s ratification in 1994, negatively impacted this region of North Carolina tremendously hard. Between 1995 and 1999, the NAFTA snowball started to roll resulting in the closing of the seven (7) largest industrial utility customers and a total of 54 manufacturing plants causing the loss of more than 7,500 jobs. In 2000, additional plant closures impacted local tax and utility revenues even more—resulting in more than $70 million in lost revenues just in water/wastewater and additional losses were realized in the electric fund. At the end of 2000, Gaston County had lost more than 13,000 jobs. To date, as of 2017, the economic engines within Gaston County, NC, a federally Designated Qualified Opportunity Zone, have only been able to recover to 53% of its economic glory of the early 1990’s.
The City of Gastonia, in conjunction with the City of Lowell, Gaston County, and the private property owners, seek $18.5 million (50%) in BUILD Discretionary Grant funds to complete the $37,000,000 package needed to implement the Lineberger Connector project between the two communities. As shown in Figure 1, the Lineberger Connector project consists of approximately 1.0 mile of new location roadway and a new bridge over I-85, connecting both sides of I-85 between US 29/74 (Franklin Boulevard) and NC 7 to the north. The proposed project also falls within the project limits for the widening of I-85 by NCDOT. TIP project I-5719 will widen I-85 from a six-lane facility to a minimum of an eight-lane facility. The 2020-2029 STIP has this design-build project programmed for construction beginning in FY 2024. Coordination with this TIP project will be critical, given the overlap of activity and impacts on the I-85 ROW. While this can be seen as a challenge for the project, it is also an opportunity to utilize the mitigation credits this site provides. These compensatory wetland and stream credits found on site have the potential to offset overall project costs and benefit the I-85 widening project by providing mitigation directly in the corridor. The construction of the Lineberger Connector will complete the network between Exit 21 (Cox Road) and Exit 22 (South Main Street) east and west, and NC 7 and US 29/74 (Franklin Boulevard) north and south.
The project also provides a second-grade separation crossing between Exits 21 and 22 over I-85. The Lineberger Connector will complete the network, braid the communities together through this overly congested area, unlocking the development potential of approximately $900 million in project value for the Greater Gaston area, thus allowing these communities to begin to recover from the impact of NAFTA.
This project will improve traffic flow for community residents and regional commuters from Gaston County. The new grade separation will also unlock more than 450 acres of property that is ripe for local and regional development. The Charlotte Metro region is one of the fastest growing areas in North Carolina and the U.S. The project area is located along the I-85 corridor which serves the majority of the Southeast and connects the Charlotte region to the northeast corridor along I-95 South to Atlanta. This corridor serves as a major trucking corridor, supplying the eastern seaboard with vital goods and services. Unlocking the 450 acres as a part of the Lineberger Connector project can provide the much-needed manufacturing, logistics, and distribution facilities along the I-85 corridor. These improvements will provide greater economic mobility for citizens in both cities and leverage infrastructure improvements to stimulate economic growth. This project not only will result in significant long-term benefits to the adjacent communities of Gastonia and Lowell, but will also impact the rural areas of Gaston County and the metropolitan areas of Charlotte. The project meets all BUILD primary and secondary selection criteria and is ready for implementation due to an unprecedented level of support.
The Lineberger Connector project will be an economic transformation for the region.