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Myrtle Beach congressman urges SC governor to add I-73 money to Florence aid

Drone video of workers attempting to shore up Highway 501 at Conway, South Carolina

Efforts are being made to prevent Highway 501 in Conway from flooding over. Myrtle Beach would be cut off if the area floods, but Conway residents are worried the project will cause water to back up and further flood areas around town.
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Efforts are being made to prevent Highway 501 in Conway from flooding over. Myrtle Beach would be cut off if the area floods, but Conway residents are worried the project will cause water to back up and further flood areas around town.

As floodwaters threaten to cut off the Grand Strand, a S.C. congressman is pushing for federal money to build Interstate 73.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, wrote Tuesday to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster urging him to amend his request for federal aid for recovery from Hurricane Florence to include money for I-73, which could serve as evacuation route.

“While South Carolina has made improvements to hurricane evacuation planning, our inadequate and outdated infrastructure exacerbates the safety risks and economic impacts of a natural disaster in the Grand Strand,” Rice said in a statement. “Insufficient roadways have put 250,000 of my constituents at risk of having absolutely no lifeline to the rest of state for up to two weeks, with limited access to food, water, medical supplies and other necessities. ... (F)unding an adequate evacuation route for the Grand Strand needs to be a top priority.”

McMaster formally requested $1.2 billion in aid from the federal government Thursday as the state deals with continued flooding from Florence, including $18 million from the Federal Highway Administration.

And, Friday, the state was approved, at McMaster’s request, for $8 million in Federal Highway Administration “quick release” money. That money will allow the Transportation Department to accelerate repair work on damaged roads, according to S.C. Transportation Department head Christy Hall.

“The governor has always been supportive of the I-73 project and agrees with Congressman Rice that Hurricane Florence has highlighted the need to complete it,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes wrote in an email. “(B)ut, at this time, we are unaware of any avenue through which the governor can request disaster relief funds for new construction projects.”

Rice has struggled to find the $2 billion needed to build 75 miles of interstate from the North Carolina border to South Carolina’s tourist hub of Myrtle Beach, a decades-in-the-making project.

The primary evacuation route for the Grand Strand is the four-lane 501 highway, followed by S.C. 9, parts of which have been closed due to flooding. Tuesday, floodwaters threatened to close U.S. 501 and U.S. 17 — the only remaining lifelines in and out of Horry and Georgetown counties.

While lane reversals on 501 reduced evacuation times, a quicker, more efficient route is needed, Rice wrote.

“South Carolinians lost their lives trying to evacuate on inadequate roads,” Rice wrote. “Imagine the consequences if Florence had come ashore as a Category 4 storm as predicted and all of our roads were now closed. We can no longer ignore the danger.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, tweeted Tuesday that he expected the U.S. House to pass a $1.6 billion disaster recovery bill Wednesday to help the Carolinas rebuild from Hurricane Florence.

State Rep. James Smith of Columbia, the Democratic candidate for governor, last week used washed out roads, caused by Florence’s widespread flooding, to take a swipe at McMaster over infrastructure funding.

Campaign spokesman Brad Warthen said Tuesday that Smith is a proponent of the I-73 project.

“And while he sees that as a priority, he sees fixing our existing infrastructure as an even greater priority,” Warthen said.

Tom Barton: 803-771-8304, @tjbarton83
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