By Paul Gable
The I-73 project is back in the news as our local group of politicians is hoping to get a permit for the project from the federal government.
In these economically difficult times, fiscal responsibility, less spending, smaller government and lower taxes, is the refrain being sung by “conservative” politicians. If this is such a good idea, is it too much to ask our local politicians to practice what they preach, especially when it applies to big government projects like I-73?
Since the mid-1990’s, local politicians and business leaders have been saying the Grand Strand needs an interstate highway connection in order to sustain and build tourism. If you don’t believe it, just watch the advertisements, paid for by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, on local television stations telling us just that. If they say it, it must be so.
Time for a historical footnote.
Back in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when the interstate system was first being proposed and built by the Department of Defense, local business leaders said they didn’t want an interstate going all the way to the beach.
The thinking was that an interstate highway would bring with it industry and higher paying jobs. If that happened, who would be left to work, at considerably lower pay, in the tobacco fields and hotels of Horry, Marion, Dillon and Florence counties? Consequently, the interstate system got no closer to the coast than Florence.
Two generations later, the descendants of these business leaders now want an interstate to the coast because they believe it will help their business interests (tobacco is gone and there are a lot more hotel rooms to fill and former farm property to be developed). Have to protect the personal and business interests of the presumed local gentry, right?
During the 2012 campaign for the new S.C. 7th Congressional District, the “conservative” Republican candidate pushed the need for the building of I-73 very hard. That “conservative” Republican candidate, Tom Rice, had a campaign funded largely by these same business interests who support this hugely expensive project.
Interestingly, the Democrat candidate, Gloria Tinubu, supported an upgrade to the U.S. 501/SC 38 corridor, a much cheaper alternative, as the answer to providing better highway access to the coast. Of course all the good “conservatives” were painting Tinubu as a free spending liberal. I’m sure there is logic in there somewhere if you look long enough.
It just so happens, Tinubu was right! A study, commissioned by the Coastal Conservation League (linked below with link to an explanatory letter), conclude that an upgrade to the U.S. 501/SC 38 corridor from I-95 to the coast, called “The Grand Strand Expressway,” will accomplish the same access goals as the building of a brand new I-73 at approximately 10 percent of the cost.
If the real goal is improved highway access to the coast, it’s well past time to look at an alternative to the big government, big spending I-73 project that will not be completed for at least 20 years anyway.
If the real goal is something else, like special interests, let’s at least admit it and move forward with honest rhetoric. It might be interesting to research who would benefit from those tens of millions of government tax dollars that would have to be spent to acquire the right of way for I-73.