Background: The Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln Metropolitan Planning Organization (GCLMPO) is a multi-jurisdictional entity made up of 34 local governments, NCDOT, USDOT, and other providers of transportation services to jointly plan for transportation improvements to the three-county region. The GCLMPO formally consists of 18 voting local government members.

Size: The Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln MPO is 1,140 square miles. Stretching about 27 miles from north to south and 45 miles from east to west, it is two percent of North Carolina by size.

Population: The three counties in the MPO together have a population of 414,272 based on the 2020 Census. This number is expected to grow close to 500,000 by 2050. The fastest growing areas are in eastern Gaston and Lincoln counties.

Commuting Patterns: Commuting trips are a distinct minority of all trips generated, but represent the focus of data collection through the Census Bureau, which reports a wide range of information on origins and destinations, mode, time, and demographics of commuters. What is most important for the GCLMPO to consider is, “how and where are workers traveling for work?” The answer is, “mainly by themselves and either within their own county for Cleveland County or to Mecklenburg County for Lincoln and Gaston counties.” Over 52,000 residents in Lincoln and Gaston counties are traveling to Mecklenburg County for work. Travel time is typically highest for those areas near the edge of feasible commutes to the jobs centers in Mecklenburg County. Cleveland County has the lowest average commute time at 24.7 minutes, and is also furthest from Mecklenburg County, with only 3,793 residents working in Mecklenburg County.

It is important to note that COVID-19 has had a drastic impact on the number of workers telecommuting and could permanently change the way many of our residents work.

Public Transportation: Each of the three counties is completely covered by the community transportation system serving that county. These “dial-a-ride” or demand response programs are available to the general public, but primarily serve older adults and persons with disabilities. Gastonia is the only City in the tri-county area that operates a fixed-route service that reaches most of the city. Amtrak has a station in Gastonia, and the NCDOT contracts with a private operator for daily round-trip service between Boone and Charlotte, with stops in Gastonia and Lincolnton. Finally, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) operates an express bus service (85X-Gastonia Express) from Gastonia and Belmont to downtown Charlotte.

Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT): Vehicles traveling in and through the three counties add up to nearly 13 million miles per day. The Metrolina Regional Travel Demand Model (MRM) does project increasing VMT in the MPO through 2050, with approximately 34% more VMT per day from 2018 to 2050.

The impact of having an interstate in a county dramatically impacts where travel occurs. In Gaston County approximately 1/3 of all travel occurs on I-85, while approximately 1/6 occurs on local roads (arterials and collectors). Lincoln County, which does not have an interstate, has a larger amount of travel occurring on local roads. Cleveland County, by virtue of having US 74 coded as partial expressway and arterial, has a much higher percent of its traffic on expressway and principal arterial roads.

Air Quality Status:  The GCLMPO is a part of the Charlotte Metrolina Area, which historically has had issues with air quality, primarily from ground-level Ozone. In 2004, the EPA designated the Metrolina Area, including Gaston and Lincoln counties, as moderate non-attainment for ozone NAAQS under the 1997 8-hour standard. With significant improvements, in 2013 the EPA redesignated the Metrolina Area as attainment for the 8-hour ozone standards. In May 2008, the EPA revised the ozone NAAQS to provide increased protection of public health and welfare, especially for children and “at risk” populations. With the new 2008 standards, the Metrolina Area was designated by the EPA as marginal nonattainment.

The Clean Air Act requires the GCLMPO to demonstrate that the fiscally-constrained metropolitan transportation plan and the transportation improvement program conform to the State Air Quality Implementation Plan, and not cause new air quality violations, worsen existing violations, or delay timely attainment of the NAAQS.