Last week, S.C. Transportation Secretary Christy Hall presented her agency’s plan to put “taxpayer dollars to good use.” The list focuses on urgent, long-overdue needs for our state, including improving safety on rural roads, widening existing interstates, resurfacing roads and replacing old bridges.
Interstate 73, which is Myrtle Beach’s priority, did not make the list.
In fact, the money needed to build I-73 — $2.1 billion — could actually fund most of the state’s true priorities, including upgrades to I-26, I-85, I-95 and I-20.
The massive highway, which would run from I-95 to S.C. 22, would line the pockets of Myrtle Beach special interests, not serve the people of South Carolina.
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The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has invested heavily in marketing and lobbying campaigns in Washington and here at home, trying to convince our congressmen and communities that we need I-73.
But we don’t.
If I-73 was truly needed, it would have been financed and finished in the 1980s when it was proposed. Back then, the route was meant to run from Michigan to South Carolina. Many of the states involved in the original plan have abandoned their portion after acknowledging the road is too expensive to build for too little in return. Even I-73’s S.C. advocates have abandoned the initial design, disregarding the northern section of the road and Marlboro County.
Still, Myrtle Beach business interests and lobbyists continue to push for I-73 as a poorly conceived strategy to funnel tourists (and their wallets) directly to the coast.
It’s bad enough that I-73 is an antiquated fantasy that the community doesn’t want. Rep Tom Rice wants you to pay more in taxes and tolls to support it.
In his column about I-73, “It’s highway robbery: How this environmental group is stealing a road SC needs,” U.S. Rep. Tom Rice talks about how I-73 would benefit residents and places like Dillon County. But Dillon Mayor Todd Davis has said repeatedly that he and his constituents do not want I-73 and that it would harm local businesses and quality of life.
Recently, Mayor Davis wrote: “If I-73 becomes a reality, Dillon businesses along U.S. 301 and Radford Boulevard will take a hit. That means less tax money to continue the improvements we’ve worked on so diligently. It would mean a step back, just as we’re moving forward.”
Throughout the Pee Dee, mayors, business leaders and chambers of commerce have echoed Todd Davis’ opposition to I-73, citing concerns that the new interstate would literally run parallel to existing roads and divert visitors’ dollars, which put food on Pee Dee tables and keep Pee Dee businesses open.
And if it isn’t enough that I-73 is an antiquated fantasy, that the community doesn’t want it, and that the state Transportation Department has committed zero state dollars for the project, Rep. Rice wants you to pay more in taxes and tolls to support it.
Myrtle Beach special interests should not be the arbiters of transportation funding for all of South Carolina.
Even with a deliverance of federal cash, there still would not be enough money to build the interstate. The congressman and his friends in Myrtle Beach are proposing tolls on I-73 to make up for that funding gap and floating an idea to toll existing roads — which you already pay for.
The Coastal Conservation League is not trying to block progress in Horry County or the Grand Strand. In fact, we are spending money to hire qualified engineers and generate objective reports on a valid alternative. This smart alternative calls for upgrades to an existing road, and it protects and creates jobs. If pursued, this local solution would achieve the same goals for Myrtle Beach more quickly and at a fraction of the cost.
Myrtle Beach special interests should not be the arbiters of transportation funding for all of South Carolina. If he gets his way, Rep. Rice will send all federal funds directly to his donors and close friends, not the communities that desperately need their roads and bridges repaired and solutions for their insufficient, existing highways and endless traffic.
Don’t be fooled. There is a reason I-73 does not appear on the Transportation Department’s priority list. We don’t need it, and it is a waste of valuable money. Please join us in opposing frivolous spending on the new interstate.
Ms. Jones-Turansky is chief conservation officer with the Coastal Conservation League; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.