Supporters say Hurricane Florence showed the need for I-73, not everyone agrees

Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) –  A quarter of a century later, local, state, and federal leaders still work to build Interstate 73. It would be the Grand Strand area’s first interstate.

I-73 would run from Michigan to Myrtle Beach. Now after Hurricane Florence, there’s even more urgency, among some, to complete the project. 

As Hurricane Florence approached the South Carolina coast in September, so did the call for evacuations. “If any of your listeners or viewers were stuck on Highway 501 or Highway  9 or Highway 17 trying to dodge this storm and get their family to safety they understand how important it is to have good ingress and egress,” said S.C. District 107 Rep. Alan Clemmons of Myrtle Beach.

The storm dumped more than a foot of rain across our part of the Carolinas. Subsequent flooding followed, forcing SCDOT crews to build enormous barriers along Highway 501 in Conway and on Hwy 17 in Georgetown County to keep main roads from flooding.  

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice (R), of Myrtle Beach, said ” From the Waccamaw River to the North Carolina line to Georgetown, to the ocean and the 250,000 people who live there, and they were trapped. If the roads are shut down, you can’t get food, you can’t get water, you can’t get medical supplies, you can’t get building supplies. It was a very scary situation.”

Rice asked for money in the federal disaster relief package to fund I-73. That concerned many, but Rice says the money for I-73 will be in addition to the money homeowners, farmers, and business owners will receive. And, when President Trump visited Conway after the storm, Rice and other Horry County leaders asked the president then for help getting federal dollars to fund the project.

“If we don’t get it [funding] in the relief package, which I think we’re going to get some in the relief package, then we’ll work on the infrastructure package the president wants to do. The president has repeatedly said he is for I-73,” said Rice. 

“I believe Hurricane Florence showed us extreme weaknesses that we’ve known about for some time but we haven’t seen demonstrated like we did in Hurricane Florence.  Yes, I believe Hurricane Florence is a wake-up call for us,” Clemmons also said. 

South Carolina’s part of I-73 would run from the Rockingham/Hamlet area, into Marlboro County, then into Dillon County, intersecting with Interstate 95, and then hitting Highway 22 in the Myrtle Beach/Conway area. Horry County Council has approved funding from an existing stream for new road infrastructure that will fund about a third of a billion dollars for construction of  I-73 in Horry County.

And if I-73 comes to fruition, Clemmons said it’s a game changer. “It absolutely will change everything, not the least of which is our emergency preparation in Horry County.” 

“But most folks recognize that infrastructure brings opportunity. You take I-73 and you put it right by that Dillon Inland Port, and you will magnify the beneficial effects of that,” said Rice.

Not everyone wants I-73, including the Coastal Conservation League based out of Charleston.  The environmental group has filed a lawsuit against the project.

Erin Pate, North Coast Director for the Coastal Conservation League, released this statement to News13:

“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.”  

Both lawmakers told News13 they believe the Coastal Conservation League’s lawsuit will be disposed of and construction will begin in the next three years.  As part of the plan to build I-73, thousands of acres in western Horry County have been turned over to DNR for conservation. 

The estimated cost is about three billion dollars to build South Carolina’s portion of I-73.

To see the complete timeline of the project, click here.

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