Chamber and Governor Mull Press Conference to Announce I-73 Funding with No Funding Approved

By Paul Gable

The latest effort by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to make construction of Interstate 73 a viable project in the minds of the voters of Horry County took several bizarre twists yesterday.

A brief recap:

In recent weeks, the Chamber has promoted the idea that a mysterious poll of voters in South Carolina (405 in all) showed 82% of those responding favored construction of I-73. The actual questions and responses have never been revealed, just questionable results.

The poll announcement was followed by news that Chamber President and CEO Karen Riordan, state Rep. Case Brittain, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune and Horry County Council member Dennis DiSabato were working on a $750 million funding package for the I-73 project that included $250 in funding from local governments and $500 million from the state. It was announced that the governments of Horry County, the City of Myrtle Beach and the City of North Myrtle Beach would approve their respective portions of the $250 million funding package by the end of this month.

Monday it was announced that the Horry County Administration Committee would vote the next day on a resolution to dedicate $4.2 million per year, for up to 30 years, to the I-73 project from county hospitality fee revenue. That vote, however, was postponed until at least October 26 after a short executive session by committee members on Tuesday.

Tuesday evening Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner was informed that Gov. Henry McMaster would hold a press conference Monday October 4, 2021, at the Myrtle Beach Chamber offices to announce the state was committing $300 million to I-73 construction. (There was no explanation of why alleged state funding was reduced from the $500 million announced by Brittain to the $300 million over a two-week span.)

Now the bizarre:

According to a number of sources familiar with events, word began to spread from Riordan to local politicians yesterday that the governor would be coming to Myrtle Beach on Monday to make an announcement about I-73 funding.

Unless the state government receives specifically earmarked funds for I-73 from the federal government, the governor cannot order any state agency to spend money on the project. Appropriations must receive voting approval from the General Assembly.

State legislators, from around the state, contacted by Grand Strand Daily, said the news that Gov. McMaster was going to announce funding from the state for I-73 was a surprise since the General Assembly had not approved nor even considered any such appropriation.

One legislator from the Upstate said he seriously doubted either house of the legislature would vote to approve funding for I-73 since there were so many more urgent needs for repair and upgrading of current roads throughout the state.

Local Rep. William Bailey said, “If the governor is going to bring $300 million to Horry County, $150 million of it better be for Hwy 90 improvements.”

Bailey posted on Facebook, “If the governor comes to Horry County and announces $300 million for the I-73 project without a plan to address the additional highway needs, he is OUT OF TOUCH with the voters in Horry.” (Emphasis added by Bailey)

Therein lies the rub surrounding this recent I-73 funding push. Local citizens have made known to local politicians that repairs and improvements to roads such as Hwy 90, Hwy 905, SC 9 and U.S. 501 have greater urgency in the minds of local voters than a future I-73. Why does the Chamber continue to push that one project?

The answer has to lie with those individuals who stand to gain financially by sale of land for the right of way for I-73 and those businesses who expect to be awarded contracts for preliminary work on I-73 construction. In their minds, they have waited long enough for their(?) money.

Other events of yesterday included members of the Administration Committee asking Gardner to place the county’s Resolution to dedicate funding for I-73 on next week’s county council regular meeting agenda because the governor was going to announce $300 million in funding from the state on Monday. This request was made despite the fact that the same resolution was deferred from consideration until October by the admin committee.

Grand Strand Daily was informed yesterday six votes on county council would not consider appropriating funding for I-73 unless and until the state and federal governments both appropriated significant funding toward the final cost of the project and local road needs were addressed. These six do not include council members Johnny Vaught and Bill Howard who have both stated publicly they would not support funding I-73 until a plan was in place and funded to fix Hwy 90.

There remains no word from the cities on when or if they will consider approving funding for I-73.

Several members of the local legislative delegation have told Grand Strand Daily they will hold their own press conference about I-73 vs local road needs and funding if the governor announces $300 million for I-73.

Will Gov. McMaster come to Myrtle Beach next week to announce he is recommending to the General Assembly that it appropriate $300 million for I-73 when no local government funds are yet appropriated?

Only time will tell. He can do that from Columbia and save the trip but then Tom Rice, Russell Fry and Brenda Bethune may miss out on a photo op for their current campaigns.

One final observance – Brad Dean would never have allowed I-73 developments to become so confused and chaotic!

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