McMaster’s I-73 Proposal Advances Freeway Possibility
Gov. Henry McMaster’s announcement in Myrtle Beach on funding for the initial construction of the southern portion of Interstate 73 is a proposition for state lawmakers, but the governor surely helped push forward a funding plan. at Horry County Council.
The much sought-after highway from I-95 to SC 22 at Aynor is the Grand Strand’s link to the country’s interstate highway system and is important in three ways: 1. a hurricane escape route; 2. easier driving for tourists; 3. future economic development other than tourism.
The $ 1.6 billion project is in itself a huge economic boost for the region and the state. It involves federal, state and local funds, the latter of which includes commitments from Horry County and municipal county governments.
Days before McMaster’s announcement to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, the Horry County Council Administrative Committee delayed voting on an I-73 fundraising plan because the county wanted more details on the Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach financing plans.
This is typical of the sometimes delicate nature of cooperation between counties and municipal governments. City officials want the county to play its cards first; county officials insist that cities come first. Some elected officials are indeed saying to let the federal government do its part, and then we will see what we can do.
After the governor’s announcement, the county council administrative committee held a special meeting at which committee members voted unanimously to send the I-73 financing plan to the entire council. About $ 4.2 million from hospitality costs (1.5% tax on hotel, restaurant and event fees) will be set aside for 30 years.
Credit the board of directors (Johnny Vaught, chairman, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant, Gary Loftus) for moving the I-73 plan forward. The local ball, so to speak, is now in the city’s court. The mayors of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, during McMaster’s announcement, said the cities were committed and working on a fundraising plan.
The state share of funding will be a budgetary issue next year. McMaster’s recommendation to allocate $ 300 million in federal relief money to victims of Covid will not go easily through the legislative process. State Senator Thomas Alexander of Oconee, chairman of the Senate finance subcommittee, said McMaster’s recommendation would be considered along with other requests.
On the same day as McMaster’s announcement, State Representative William Bailey of Little River called the governor “irresponsible” for proposing the use of Covid relief funds for highways as the state is still in the midst of a pandemic. Bailey recognized the importance of I-73. He also noted that improvements are needed on local roads, a point raised by a spokesperson for the Coastal Conservation League at the county administrative meeting.
At the McMaster conference, County Council member Orton Bellamy spoke about plans to improve other roads. In other words, state and county plans do not ignore other roads. The county approved the improvements to Highway 90 when it deferred the vote on funding for I-73.
WAIT FOR A RETURN
The CLC has long opposed the construction of I-73, more recently challenging environmental permits from the United States District Court. They have been maintained.
Upstate lawmaker Gilda Cobb-Hunter (Democrat of Orangeburg) opposes COVID-19 money for I-73, but she supports the same funds to expand I-26. Widening an existing highway trumps building a new one, and it doesn’t matter what public health and safety factors are in the latter project, but cite them in the former.
A public opinion survey commissioned by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce confirms a good margin of support for I-73, especially when respondents know the economic benefits and safety. It is doubtful that supporters of I-73 care about the source of the funding.
The challenge ahead will be to convince a majority of lawmakers of the need to build I-73.