MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Representative Tom Rice is joining Senator Lindsey Graham in pushing for the I-73 project to be completed.
Graham is asking for $12 million in federal funding to construct I-73 which would connect I-95 to Myrtle Beach. Graham said the project has been delayed for decades. The money would be used to finish buying the right-of-ways to build the interstate.
Rice has asked Governor Henry McMaster to spend some of South Carolina’s federal coronavirus aid money on the project. He said it’s something they’re working on.
Rice agrees with Graham that it’s a critical infrastructure piece for the Grand Strand.
“In terms of the state as a whole, the Grand Strand is the largest producer of tourism dollars in the state,” Rice said. “About 50% of the tourism — tax dollars come from the Grand Strand. It’s a huge cash cow for the whole state.”
Graham also referred to the Grand Strand as a “cash cow.”
Rice said the I-73 project has been neglected for too long and should’ve been completed 30 years ago. The project would pass through three of the poorest counties in the state and the project would create opportunity in Marion, Marlboro, and Dillon counties, Rice said.
Rice said people get tired of having to drive into the Grand Strand on Highway 9 and Highway 501 where they have to sit through stop lights and traffic.
“It also would give us the option to diversify our industrial base,” Rice said. “Companies that are looking to move want to be next to infrastructure where they can get their products out.”
Rice said 80% of companies looking to move want to be within 5 miles of an interstate.
“If we ever expect to diversify our industrial base and give our children and grandchildren an opportunity to stay home when they graduate from college rather than have to move away to find a good job, we’ve got to have infrastructure, and this is the most important piece of that infrastructure,” Rice said.
Not everyone wants I-73, including the Coastal Conservation League based out of Charleston. The environmental group filed a lawsuit against the project in 2018. Erin Pate, North Coast Director for the Coastal Conservation League, released this statement to News13 when the lawsuit was filed:
“We think it’s shameful that elected officials and some business leaders would use the devastation and suffering caused by Hurricane Florence to promote an unnecessary and outrageously expensive road project. The evacuation out of Myrtle Beach went smoothly, demonstrating that there is no need for I-73. If I-73 had been built, portions of it would have flooded just as many existing highways were flooded. Hurricane evacuation response is more about prediction, planning, and policy, not about building more and wider roads. Evacuation experts do not focus on new roads as a hurricane evacuation policy response. Methods such as lane reversal plans are the critical factor in determining response time. The Conservation League has long been opposed to building I-73 because it would be harmful to the environment and is a fiscally irresponsible project. Building the highway would destroy 300 acres of wetlands and miles of streams in the Pee Dee. And it would ruin family farms and change the nature of the area FOREVER. The Southern Environmental Law Center, on our behalf, filed a lawsuit in December 2017 that challenged federal permits that would allow the construction of the highway. Permitting agencies have relied on outdated environmental data and failed to consider other viable roadway alternatives that would serve the area better than I-73.”