McMaster recommends $300 million to help fund completion of I-73 project to Myrtle Beach
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced what he called the most significant step toward making I-73 a reality in the Grand Strand.
He held a press conference at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce where he was joined South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall, members of the General Assembly and local officials where he recommended $300 million to help fund the completion of I-73.
He is recommending that the General Assembly set aside the money from the American Rescue Plan funds and non-recurring dollars from the state’s projected $1 billion surplus for the fiscal year 2022.
“I can think of nothing more transformative than the state committing the first $300 million to kickstart this critical project. It is my hope that this commitment will serve as a catalyst for our local government partners to finalize their investment plans and will strengthen the position of our congressional delegation as they work to secure federal funding, so that we can finally make I-73 a reality,” McMaster said.
Many have been calling for the completion of I-73, which would connect the Grand Strand to Interstate 95, and create an easier and quicker way to get to the beach. McMaster also said that it will also help to save lives and give residents and visitors a critical way to evacuate during a hurricane. He estimated that I-73 will cut evacuation times by 15 hours.
“The time is right for us to make I-73 a reality,” said Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune. “Not only is the Myrtle Beach area one of the top tourist destinations in the country, but Horry County is the fastest-growing county in the state and the fact is that we don’t have any interstate connectivity. But that’s going to change. I-73 will provide both our residents and our visitors a safer pathway both in and out of our city, especially during hurricane evacuations and reentry.”
The total cost of the expansion is estimated at $1.6 billion. McMaster hopes that with the state being the first to commit to funding the project, it will provide local and federal governments the assurance needed to finalize their own investment plans for I-73. The state will come up with half of the $1.6 billion, while the federal and local governments are responsible for the other half.
The major interstate will be done in phases as the money becomes available.
During the press conference, Hall explained that the $300 initial funding would build six miles from I-95 to Highway 501 near Latta, which is Phase 1.
Phase 2a will run from Highway 501 to S.C. 41, Phase 2b will then connect S.C. 41 to the Little Pee Dee River and Phase 3 would run from the Little Pee Dee River to S.C. 22 near Aynor.
Hall said that Phase 1 could start within six to nine months if they get the funding.
McMaster added that the completion of I-73 could create 29,000 new jobs and pump billions of dollars into the Grand Strand and Pee Dee regions.
Funding issues and also lawsuits have gotten in the way of bringing I-73 to the Grand Strand. But last month a U.S. District Court judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought on by the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League helped pave the way for talks on completing I-73.
The executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Laura Cantral, released the following statement on I-73:
“I-73 is a wholly unnecessary project that would cost billions of dollars and impact hundreds of acres of wetlands and prime farmland. Some elected officials and business leaders are touting the road as a silver bullet that will solve Horry County’s traffic problems. But the roadway is not designed to decrease traffic. It is designed to increase traffic to Myrtle Beach, bypassing towns and small businesses already struggling with the impacts of a global pandemic.
The Conservation League supports improving existing roadways like I-26 and S.C. Highway 90 in Horry County. Those projects are worthy of taxpayer investment. I-73 will devastate the environment and won’t address Horry County’s most pressing transportation problems. $300 million could go a long way toward raising roads that are vulnerable to flooding, widening where necessary, and completing Horry County’s long list of transportation priorities.
In addition, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan to support communities dealing with the impacts of Covid-19, not to fund unnecessary transportation projects. These funds should go toward projects that benefit all South Carolinians, not tourists from outside of South Carolina.
This funding must be supported by the General Assembly, something that is by no means guaranteed. We think local legislators will see the folly of spending billions of dollars on a project that doesn’t even address the needs of Horry County residents, let alone the entire state.”
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