Horry County Council votes unanimously to end SCDOT contract to fund Interstate 73

Grand Strand

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County Council voted Tuesday night to leave a contract with the state Department of Transportation to fund Interstate 73.

Council voted 11-0 to end the SCDOT funding agreement. Council member Al Allen of Aynor was not at the meeting.

Last year, the county pledged up to $25 million annually towards the I-73 project in that contract. That funding was expected to come from hospitality tax revenue.

The money is currently tied up in a lawsuit by the county’s cities and towns, who want to control it for their own public safety and infrastructure needs.

“At this point in time, it’s not possible for the SCDOT contract, the way it was written, for it to get done this fiscal year,” said Johnny Vaught, a council member representing the Forestbrook area.

Council chair Johnny Gardner said the cities and towns haven’t accepted a deal in the hospitality tax lawsuit mediation.

“We thought we had an agreement to recommend to the municipalities and we’re still in that phase,” said Gardner. “I think the lawyers are still trying to work out some kinks and stuff. Hopefully, we’ll have an agreement at some point.”

Gardner also says the I-73 project is no longer in the running for a $348 million federal grant.

Council member Harold Worley of North Myrtle Beach says this doesn’t mean the end of I-73, but that the state legislature may need to get involved.

“It’s obvious the municipalities are not interested in participating in building I-73,” Worley said. “We cannot do it alone. This county council cannot do it alone. We do not have the funding source.”

When asked about Tuesday’s decision, a Myrtle Beach spokesperson said that city council has voted twice to support I-73, while county council has voted not to fund it. Worley says he expects a bill to be prefiled in Columbia on Wednesday about funding I-73.

Council member Dennis DiSabato, who represents parts of Myrtle Beach, isn’t so certain about Columbia’s help.

“I do not agree with letting the state legislature lead on local issues of local import, where we should be acting as the leaders,” he said.

Rep. Tom Rice, R-South Carolina, voiced his concern and frustration over Tuesday’s decision, saying in a statement:

“All I can say is that it is an awful shame. Completion of I-73 would lead to thousands of more jobs in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee. It would bring more industry and higher pay. I-73 will do more to lift the people of Horry County, Marion County, Dillon County and Marlboro County than anything else.  I fight for I-73 every day. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott are fighting for I-73. Governor McMaster is fighting for I-73. We have all asked our local leaders to resolve their differences. And at this critical time our local leaders are willing to turn their back on it.  It is an awful shame.” 

In August, council voted in a special meeting to delay entering the SCDOT funding agreement for I-73 until Dec. 31 and on a Nov. 26 deadline for the cities and towns to join that contract or the county would cancel it.

“Horry County can not go it alone on I-73,” Gardner said during that meeting.

“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 that meeting. “If I could build it myself, I’d be out there with a shovel digging.”

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

Count on News13 for updates.

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