A Charleston environmental group filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the federal government’s stamp of approval to construct Interstate 73 all the way to Myrtle Beach, arguing that a less costly alternative should first be considered.
The Coastal Conservation League (CCL) says building a Grand Strand Expressway (GSX) by upgrading the current route along U.S. 501 would save taxpayers $2 billion.
The estimated cost to build the interstate is $2.4 billion. The CCL did not state how much money it would cost to upgrade the current route to handle upwards of 30,000 vehicles a day, except to estimate it at a tenth of the cost.
Not only would the environment be protected, but so would businesses along the current route, the group argued.
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“An interstate that bypasses the region would be devastating to this business and dozens of others,” said Alex Small, manager of Sparky’s, a fireworks store and iconic tourist attraction on U.S. 501. “Our livelihood and the paychecks of the local workers we hire depend on attracting travelers passing through. Losing that steady stream of visitors would be a significant setback.”
The lawsuit essentially asks the federal court to require that the environmentalists’ alternative be considered before construction proceeds. They argue that an interstate constructed several miles away from the current route would rob the rest of the state from possibly obtaining federal tax dollars.
“This is about giving all of the people of South Carolina a voice and a choice,” said Erin Pate Pate, CCL spokesperson. “We support the Myrtle Beach tourism economy. The GSX would get tourists to Myrtle Beach faster and cheaper than I-73, which will take at least a decade to build.”
Supporters of building the interstate to Myrtle Beach, including U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, say the interstate proposal is a shovel-ready project that already meets federal requirements to obtain funding.
Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said they are disappointed that this same group that blocked construction of International Drive through the courts, was pursuing another legal challenge to block road construction.
Dean said the action also contradicts an earlier pledge by the environmental group that they would not block interstate construction so long as it was located north of U.S. Highway 501.
“Like they did with International Drive, the CCL ignores the needs of the region by pushing its self-serving agenda with no regard for the economic growth, job creation, and enhanced safety Interstate 73 will bring,” Dean said.
“Interstate 73 is too important to our community to back down, so we will continue our efforts to make Interstate 73 our pathway of progress, in spite of this ridiculous legal challenge,” Dean said.