Horry County Council Members Face Choice on I-73 Funding Resolution – Listen to Voters or Donors?

By Paul Gable

Horry County Council will vote tonight on a resolution to dedicate funding from locally collected hospitality fees to construction of Interstate 73.

This latest attempt at I-73 funding comes on the heels of a visit last week by Gov. Henry McMaster to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at which the governor announced his proposed funding plan for the road.

The governor proposed a plan that included $795 million from state funds, $430 million from federal funds and $350 million in total funds from Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. None of the funds have been appropriated and the sources are generally unidentified.

The governor could not give promises the funds from the state would be appropriated. The only thing he could do was tell the gathering he would ask the General Assembly to appropriate the funds he recommended.

Additionally, none of the state funds will be spent in Horry County. They will be spent in Dillon and Marion counties, according to the governor’s plan. Horry County residents are expected to fund construction of I-73 within the county on their own.

Information from the S. C. Department of Transportation is there are no funds currently available for construction of a new highway. To further complicate the funding problem, the state is on notice from the U. S. Department of Transportation that it must upgrade Interstate 95 from the North Carolina border to the Georgia border. Included in the requirements from the federal government are additional lanes and bridge repair/replacement, all of which are extremely costly items.

SCDOT said the I-95 improvements are the number one project for the agency since failure to meet the federal requirements would cost the state federal highway funds.

After the governor’s visit, the Horry County Administration Committee held a special meeting, called by committee chairman Johnny Vaught, to approve the resolution the council will vote on tonight.

The obvious question for county council tonight is, with 77% of the governor’s proposed funding for Interstate 73 (the state and federal portions) unidentified and unappropriated, and neither Myrtle Beach nor North Myrtle Beach to date having committed funds, why the rush for the county to pass its resolution?

Despite an alleged Chamber poll, which supposedly said 82% of 405 statewide voters responding supported construction of I-73. The internals of the poll have never been released by the Chamber and there is significant reason to believe no such poll exists because it is very difficult to find any voters in Horry County who support spending local raised tax revenue to build the road.

The lack of voter support was demonstrated by a reader poll conducted by a local media outlet recently which showed 67% of those responding did not want local tax funds to be spent on I-73 construction.

The history of lack of funding for I-73, the heavy requirements to fix roads both in the state and in the county more pressing and a lack of support for funding I-73 from voters, argues strongly against voting for the county resolution at this time.

Six council members, Chairman Johnny Gardner and council members Harold Worley, Bill Howard, Tyler Servant, Orton Bellamy, Johnny Vaught and Al Allen are up for reelection next year. It is safe to say any one of the above seven members of council who vote to pass the funding resolution will face opposition and significant challenges to being reelected next year.

The voters do not want locally collected tax revenue to be spent on I-73 despite the propaganda campaign that has been waged through the years to the contrary.

The question for council members tonight is do they listen to the wishes of their constituents or do they listen to the few around the county who donate to their campaigns and stand to benefit financially from construction of I-73?

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