By Paul Gable
When Horry County Council debates signing a funding agreement with SCDOT for I-73 tomorrow, there are several alternatives that should be considered before a decision is made.
As Grand Strand Daily stated in a previous article, all of the hype for I-73 is located only in Horry County. It is a given that any money designated for the project will come from Horry County only for at least the next several years.
In early calendar year 2019, the county will begin to collect Hospitality Fee revenue in excess of that needed to pay off the bonds that funded Ride I. The proposal before council is to designate approximately $25 million of that money to I-73 with SCDOT generally in control of how that money is spent.
Rather than purchasing rights of way and doing engineering design for a brand new road that may never be built beyond the borders of Horry County, why not look at using that $25 million per year toward road projects that could benefit Horry County citizens immediately upon their completion and certainly meet the standard of being tourism related?
One project that quickly comes to mind for study is raising the road bed of SC 22 between Hwy 905 and Hwy 90 to eliminate the flooding of that road that occurred during Hurricane Florence. One could even say this improvement will benefit I-73 if that road ever becomes a reality.
Two other projects that would immediately benefit both local citizens and tourists would be raising the road bed of SC 9 around Aberdeen to prevent flooding closure of the road such as has been experienced at least four times since 1999 and improvements to U.S. 501 in the Lake Busbee area to help prevent the issues Hurricane Florence and previous storms caused on that road.
Considering the designation of the excess Hospitality Fee revenue to any or all of the above three projects would have immediate benefit to citizens rather than wasting the money on purchasing rights of way and beginning engineering design of a road that may never be built.
If one thing was learned from the recent election cycle, it is citizens are looking more closely at elected officials and actions they take to improve quality of life of those currently residing in Horry County. Incumbents who had serious opposition in the June primaries or November general election are now giving up their seats January 1st, i.e. Mark Lazarus, Greg Duckworth and Harold Phillips.
Horry County’s elected officials, especially those who face reelection in two years, would do well to remember these recent electoral lessons and look to spending tax revenue in a way that will improve the quality of life of those who will be voting for them rather than looking to spend it on a ‘pie in the sky’ project like I-73 that may never be built.
It is not imperative that a decision on the use of this excess Hospitality Fee revenue be made tomorrow. It’s not going to even start to be available until sometime in the first half of 2019. It would be better for council to direct staff to complete the ordinance amending county code we spoke of in a previous article and complete an in-depth study of how best to utilize the revenue to benefit the general public in all areas such as public safety, roads, infrastructure and other projects.