For nearly two years, former broadcaster and developer Billy Packer has been fighting the city of Charlotte over a proposed Catawba River bridge, with an access road that would be built through one of his developments near Mount Holly Road.
Packer said he began lobbying the Charlotte Department of Transportation to remove the bridge from a long-range plan, a change that would allow him to develop more apartments on land he owns. His reasoning: Gaston County transportation officials had decided the bridge wasn’t worth building, and they removed it from their transportation plan.
“You can’t build a bridge halfway across the Catawba River,” Packer said.
Packer said CDOT has been dragging its feet over what he said is the obvious thing to do: Remove the bridge from its plans. He said the city has also hasn’t given the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization – which will decide the fate of the bridge – the full details of his case.
Danny Pleasant, the head of CDOT, said that’s not true.
Pleasant said transportation planners reserve certain corridors for future development in order to ensure there is available land to build roads on decades into the future.
“With the section of I-485 in the northeast, we left that corridor open,” he said. “When N.C. DOT was ready to build, they had minimal disruptions.”
He said the bridge is on a thoroughfare plan, and it could be decades before it’s built. He acknowledged there is no money to build it.
But he said, “We think there should be as much evaluation and public involvement to remove (a road) as to add one.”
Pleasant said the city hasn’t yet done a study to see if it makes sense to remove the bridge from the plan.
“We don’t know whether it’s a good idea or not,” he said.
Packer said he doesn’t understand how Pleasant could say that because one of Pleasant’s staff members conducted a four-page assessment about the bridge that was finished in November. That was about 15 months after Packer first asked the city to remove the bridge.
That report was written by Matt Magnasco, the city’s street connectivity manager, who works for Pleasant. Magnasco’s report stated that the bridge “is not warranted.”
It said the bridge and road would cost about $50 million. Because the average daily traffic count for the road would be about 7,000 cars in 2040, the “existing capacity on N.C. 16 and N.C. 27 should be sufficient.”
“A $50 million project is not warranted for only 7,000 (vehicles),” Magnasco wrote.
Packer said he believed the report would clear the way for CRTPO to remove the road from a long-range plan.
“One of his employees worked six months to do the report,” Packer said. “How could he not know a report was written?”
After the report was written, Packer said the city of Charlotte told him it would recommend the bridge be removed, but only if Packer agreed to build – using his money – a local street to connect Mt. Holly Road with another road nearby.
Packer said he can’t do that because he doesn’t own all the land needed for the road. And he said he shouldn’t have to spend millions of dollars to persuade the city to do what’s correct.
He said that request is akin to “blackmail.”
The city held a public hearing on removing the bridge in May. Packer said almost everyone who attended the meeting was in favor of not building the Mt. Holly Road bridge.
Packer said the city is delaying the process because it doesn’t want to set a precedent. If it removes the Mt. Holly Road bridge from its thoroughfare plan, the city may face similar request from other landowners.
The notes of a June 2014 CRTPO meeting note that Pleasant said if the bridge is removed from the thoroughfare plan, “the city could start receiving requests for right-of-way abandonment, making any future roadway connection difficult to achieve.”
Pleasant said this week he thinks CRPTO will be asked to vote on the bridge removal in October.