Horry County Council chair: Delaying I-73 contract keeps project in contention for $348 million federal grant

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CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – The fate of a proposed interstate through the Grand Strand and Pee Dee could be decided by Thanksgiving.

Horry County Council says cities and towns have until Nov. 26 to decide if they want to help fund Interstate 73.

“Hopefully that will cause a decision, either a decision that I-73 is dead or a decision that Myrtle Beach has stepped up to the plate,” said council chair Johnny Gardner.

Council voted 9-1 in a special meeting Wednesday to delay entering a funding agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation for I-73 to Dec. 31. Members then voted unanimously on a 90-day deadline for the county’s cities and towns to join that contract or the county will cancel it.

Those municipalities are suing the county over control of hospitality tax revenue.

“Horry County can not go it alone on I-73,” Gardner said during Wednesday’s vote.

“I think it should have been built yesterday,” said Donna Kaloz, a former member of the National I-73/I-74/I-75 Corridor Association who was at Wednesday’s meeting. “If I could build it myself, I’d be out there with a shovel digging.”

Myrtle Beach is leading that lawsuit, but says it’s committed to I-73; however, Gardner says he wants to see how much they’re committed financially.

“We don’t have any of that in writing,” he said. “On the contrary, what we have is a lawsuit filed by Myrtle Beach, where they’re not really willing not only to not kick in anything, they don’t want us to collect the fee. It’s going to kill I-73 if we’re not able to work something out.”

Gardner also says the ultimatum and delaying the contract will help keep the I-73 project in contention for a $348 million federal grant.

“It didn’t cost us anything to postpone it,” he said. “It kept all the other options in place. The (SCDOT), if asked by the federal government, can say Horry County is still doing their fair share. They still have the contract in place. They’ve just extended it until they can get Myrtle Beach to kick in their fair share.”

Horry County also delayed the SCDOT funding agreement earlier this year because of the hospitality tax lawsuit. When council signed the contract last year, it was supposed to go into effect on June 30, but it was postponed until Oct. 1.

In a statement, Rep. Tom Rice, a Republican who represents all of the counties on the proposed I-73 route in South Carolina, praised county council’s actions.

“This is good news. We cannot let petty squabbles threaten better job opportunities and a better quality of life for our constituents. How can we expect to succeed if our competition for tourists, and our competition for other industry all have access to modern intestate freeways, while we are driving on roads that were designed 75 years ago?

I hope that city and county officials quickly resolve their issues so that we can get I-73 off the ground and uplift our community. We’ve got to stop fighting each other and start fighting for this road!”

Rep. Tom Rice (R-Myrtle Beach) reacts to Horry County’s decisions about the SCDOT funding agreement for Interstate 73 on Wednesday.

The county had pledged up to $25 million annually towards construction in the SCDOT funding agreement.

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